Patients Don't Get Enough Info Before Imaging Exams. Can the Internet Help?

New research from Yale University shows why healthcare orgs must better inform patients undergoing radiologic exams, both in person and online.

Everywhere you turn these days, key opinion leaders are pushing patient-centered and patient-centric healthcare and patient empowerment. But a new study from the Yale School of Medicine suggests that when it comes to radiologic imaging exams, healthcare organizations aren’t always doing the best job of promoting those values.

At issue was the information given to patients who were about to undergo such an exam. Researchers gathered 1542 surveys from these individuals, hoping to understand what information they and their caregivers desired, where they wanted to get that material, and how such preferences related to things like a patient’s demographics or radiologic history. The investigators disseminated the 24-question survey in 6 hospitals over 6 months in 2015.

Although 78% of respondents said they had received information ahead of the exam, typically from the provider who ordered it, 52% of patients and caregivers pursued information on their own, according to the study, published in the journal Radiology. That caused researchers to conclude that pre-examination information delivery was “suboptimal,” as the respondents felt it necessary to seek additional knowledge.

“In the radiology realm, we need to take ownership over the entire imaging process,” said Jay K. Pahade, MD, an associate professor of radiology at Yale and the study’s lead author. “One big gap has been in the pre-imaging part of that process, and the data show we have work to do in closing that gap.”

Tech didn’t prove to be a savior in this study. Just 4.90% of patients who sought information on their own did so through websites like RadiologyInfo.org—the kind that radiologists and healthcare professionals developed to “provide examination information in a patient-centric format,” according to the study. The takeaway there: Patients don’t know where to find the most reliable radiology information online.

The website describes how X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound, radiation therapy, and similar procedures are performed, what patients can expect to experience, and how they might prepare. The resource comprises more than 230 descriptions, in both English and Spanish, and video footage of radiologists discussing exams, according to the research team.

“We need to increase the visibility of sites that provide some of this information,” Pahade said.

Still, the fact that 78% of patients received information prior to an exam meant that 1 in 5 people had shown up for an exam without understanding the test they were about to undergo, Pahade noted.

“This is an important finding in today’s healthcare system, where we want more patient engagement and involvement,” he said.

So, what kind of information do patients want before an imaging exam? For starters, 72% of respondents said they wanted the ordering provider to give them the rundown. Most patients (74%) wanted to know how to gear up for the test, and the least-frequent desire (54%) was for information on alternative radiation-free testing, according to the study.

“Our study found that patients value basic information related to the rest more than information related to the radiation dose, so we should probably shift our focus to providing that,” Pahade said.