Dear Radiologist: 5 Ways to Increase Patient Engagement

As a radiologist, you likely have the ability to affect more patients in one shift than any other physician at your facility may in a week; unfortunately, many patients do not understand the purpose of radiology. In a 2012 survey, 64 percent of patients indicated that they had no idea what radiology’s part was in the care continuum.

Although that survey was taken four years ago, the point is still the same: too many people do not understand radiology.

You have likely heard the phrase “Any publicity is good publicity.” It may come as a shock (or not), but that is simply not true. Reputation matters, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that radiology’s reputation is a good one.

Teri Yates, founder and principal consultant for Accountable Radiology Advisors in Columbus, Ohio, said that three viewpoints must be considered when determining the status of a profession’s reputation: that of the patient, that of the referring physician, and that of the hospital.

In this post we will discuss reputation management with patients–specifically keeping the communication channel open and increasing engagement opportunities.

As it turns out, there’s no channel like the communication channel between patients and radiologists.

Following are five simple ways to start the conversation with patients and help keep it going.


 

1. Small-form communication, such as postcards and phone calls.

One practitioner witnessed firsthand from a patient’s perspective how overwhelming treatment can sometimes be.

After seeing her husband’s experience with hospital care while he was being treated for cancer, Dr. Jennifer Kemp decided that radiologists can bring a lot of value to the healthcare system.

As a radiologist herself, she recognized how her expertise could be used to dispel anxiety surrounding imaging results.

She started out sending a simple thank you postcard to patients following their appointments. Now she provides a phone number and email at the bottom of radiology reports, and allows patients to call in right to the reading room. Read more about Jennifer’s work in the New York Times.

2. Availability.

Making yourself available as a resource to patients is the first step. By simply allowing yourself to be open to it, you are already contributing to a positive patient experience.3. Good relationships with your technicians. 

As the one reading the images, you may not always get to see outer physical signs of abnormality on patients.

For example, an image of the elbow may show nothing out of the ordinary at first glance, but a technician can tell you if the patient was favoring their limb in a manner particular to a certain injury.

These facts can help give you the full picture of a patient when reading their images.4. Offering an explanation (before and after).

A common theme often discovered in patient surveys is that patients often have to ask for an explanation of the reasoning behind why certain imaging studies have been selected for them, including what to expect from the study itself.

In a world where you can ask your phone to perform a simple Google search, it’s only natural that many people base their knowledge of doctor’s visits on what they find on the Internet.

You may recall an article by Consumer Reports that surfaced just over a year ago and painted primarily doctors, but also radiologists and rad techs, in a less-than-savory light. Below is a short excerpt from the article.

“Recent research shows that about one-third of those scans serve little if any medical purpose. And even when CT scans or other radiology tests are necessary, doctors and technicians don’t always take steps to limit radiation exposure.

Overuse is caused “not just by greed and money, but that’s part of it,” says Swensen of the Mayo Clinic. Most doctors are paid by volume, he notes, so they have an incentive to order lots of tests. And many doctors have invested in radiology equipment or clinics. Such physicians order far more CT scans and other imaging tests, research shows.”

Materials like this set the public on edge, and can make them distrustful of medical practitioners. We can help combat this by adopting a policy of complete transparency and voluntary information sharing.

Patients, more often than not, do want to know why a doctor may have ordered a certain imaging study. They want to know what the pros and cons are, what the actual danger of radiation is, and what the process will entail. Even a short, simple explanation can help set a patient at ease and let them know that you care.

Following the study and the reading of the image, it is also helpful to explain the study to them, if opportunity arises.5. Remembering who belongs in the center of healthcare. “We have to put the patient in the center of health care.” James V. Rawson, MD, of Georgia Regents University, said. “Everything has to be about the patient.”

Things like appointment scheduling, parking, care delivery, and study results are all an important part of the patient experience. Dr. Rawson worked at the hospital level to help increase patient engagement, and helped implement successful changes at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.

Under his care, the hospital created a patient advisory panel that included parents of those undergoing pediatric imaging to provide advice and input for the hospital’s direction. Adult waiting rooms gained an atmosphere more akin to that of a cozy coffee shop to help them de-stress. Patient satisfaction surveys became an even more important part of  grading the hospital’s success. Read more about their efforts here.


Do not feel like you have to make a dramatic difference by yourself–any small difference is one worth pursuing. Together, we can work to achieve better patient care and engagement in radiology.

To learn more about the cutting edge of patient engagement, please look to these additional resources:

Patient- and Family-Centered Care Resources: http://www.acr.org/Advocacy/Economics-Health-Policy/Imaging-3/PEC-Resources

Explore the materials collected by the new American College of Radiology Commission on Patient- and Family-Centered Care to enhance your understanding of—and participation in—new practice and payment models and help you provide more patient- and family-centered care.

The Radiology Cares Campaign: http://www.rsna.org/radiology_cares/

The Radiology Cares campaign is designed to help radiology professionals optimize their patients’ experiences throughout their radiologic care. Increased engagement – by you or your staff – helps improve your patients’ awareness and appreciation for the integral role you play in their healthcare.

This post was written by Kristi Alvarado.

Posted in Blog, Patient Focus

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