Radiologists can use technology to improve patient engagement

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Patient interaction and the interpretation of radiological images historically haven’t mixed. Traditionally, radiologists have interpreted images and dictated reports, and patients’ physicians subsequently shared the bad or good news with them.

Value-based care and the availability of information technology now is enabling imaging professionals to have more opportunities to interact directly with patients, opening new opportunities for radiologists to become active participants in the care process.

Radiologists need to seize the opportunity, said Geraldine McGinty, MD, newly elected chair of the board of directors for the American College of Radiology, who spoke at last week’s annual meeting of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine.

Enabling imaging professionals to interact with patients will become more important as the industry transitions to value-based care and patients increasingly take an active role in making care decisions, says McGinty, a faculty member at Weill Cornell Medicine, where she serves as chief strategy officer for the Weill Cornell Physician Organization.

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In value-based care approaches, “we need to put our patients in the center,” McGinty said. Speaking directly to the informaticians in the audience, she added, “I want to issue you a call to action because you are the people who are really shaping the infrastructure” of technology supporting radiological care.

It’s a cultural change for radiologists, who for years have been prodded to increase speed and efficiency in reading images to crank out reports, which—in a fee-for-service world—meant more revenue. Now, that paradigm is shifting, she noted.

“We need to give our patients access to their reports—and we need to do more than just put patient reports out on portals,” McGinty said. “We need to talk to our patients about the ‘why’ behind imaging.”

That’s particularly important when it comes to screenings that are provably important for early detection of disease, such as for cancer in the breast, lung and other organs that patients typically ignore. “We need to engage with patients so they will get these life-saving screenings,” she added.

There are a variety of technologies that imaging informaticists can use to help engage patients in raising disease awareness and sticking to treatment regimens, said Alexander Towbin, MD, associate chief for radiology informatics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. “Patient engagement entry points” can include social media, wearable and mobile technologies, and communications that raise health and HIT literacy.

Empowering patients to handle their own scheduling of exams is an important first step in engaging patients, Towbin said. “Most organizations have online scheduling issues—they don’t work across organizations or electronic medical records. We have to do a better job with scheduling for radiology exams, because of the importance of utilizing expensive equipment and eliminating exam cancellations and no-shows.”

Another key to patient engagement and satisfaction is quickly contacting them about the availability of reports and results, both Towbin and McGinty said.

“Our turnaround times (for viewing image studies and producing reports) are fantastic, but why do our patients have to wait when our reports are ready within hours?” McGinty asked. “Technologists, patients and families should be having an interaction to discuss results.”

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