As we have written frequently on this platform, until recently most hospitals and other imaging facilities placed embargoes on radiology reports in order to allow time for those patients' physicians to discuss the results with them. But those days are ending due to the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and the resulting "information blocking" regulations. It is no longer uncommon for patients to view their radiology reports by accessing patient portals even before speaking to their treating physicians about those results.
So what thought process should a patient go through when deciding whether to access their radiology test results before speaking first to their treating physician? Colorado-based radiologist, Paul Hsieh, MD offers sound advice to those patients in his latest column in Forbes. Dr. Hsieh notes that he personally favors immediate release of radiology results (and other medical test results) because he believes that patients have the right to know important data about their own bodies.
First, he recommends that patients need to be aware of the technical complexity of radiology reports. He provides a link to the helpful "How to Read Your Radiology Report" page on the website RadiologyInfo.org, hosted by the American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America.
Second, he encourages patients to know themselves and their tolerance for possible bad news before receiving test results without the filter of their personal physician. For someone who prefers to have their physician review those results with them, they have every right to wait. But now patients' have, he says "both the freedom — and the responsibility — to make that decision for yourself."
Finally, he advises that patients should feel free to reach out to the radiologist. Most radiology practices now provide a contact number for patients seeking further information about their reports.
As we have observed, reforms in radiology reporting are rapidly emerging as a result of the immediate access that patients now have to those reports. Some radiology departments are beginning to include a short summary, written in lay terms, at the bottom of each report. Other departments are making use of "structured reporting", striving to make the findings sections of reports clear and concise, and improving the impression section of those reports to become more definitive and actionable. And still others are beginning to provide radiology reports to patients in an interactive web page-style format with diagrams and embedded plain language explanations of medical terms.
We are entering a new era of patient engagement between radiologists and their patients. Exciting times!