Patient-centered healthcare is no longer a buzz word. It's a movement experts say all physicians — including radiologists — need to take seriously.
But making the culture change in radiology, while meeting the increasing demands of the reading room, leaves little time for lingering conversations with patients.
For Mary C. Mahoney, MD, professor of radiology and vice chair of research at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and the chair of the Radiology Society of North America's taskforce on Radiology Cares, there are a few key steps radiologists can do to take the plunge into patient-centered radiology.
1. Introduce yourself
If radiologists are going to become a known and valued part of a patient's medical team, they must step out from behind the curtain, Mahoney said.
"We need to be more visible," she said. "We're trying to put a face on the profession, so when a patient walks in and is nervously sitting waiting, they see we are real people," she said.
While an in-person handshake and smile can go a long way, and take only a few minutes, Mahoney said she recognizes that may not fit with everyone's daily routines.
So, if that is not an option, she suggested turning waiting rooms into spaces that can introduce the radiologists. Include a picture with a brief biography that explains each physician's role and areas of expertise. Websites can include more information, like abbreviated CVs, questions and answers and basic personal information to humanize the radiologists involved in the patient's care.
2. Attend tumor boards
"Radiologists should be huge participants in tumor boards," Mahoney said. "We have so much to offer at tumor boards. When discussing complicated patients, the imaging aspect of every patient's care is huge. I think we need to be there and be vocal."
While this doesn't involve direct interaction with patients, it does provide another valuable component to patient-centered care, and that's interacting with the rest of the medical team, she said.
"If you don't have one, start one," she said. "If there already is one, make sure you show up."
3. Educate the community
Radiologists should not only share their knowledge with their colleagues, but also with the general public, Mahoney said. Get involved in health fairs at religious institutions, attend a career day at your child's school and show up for a community health event, she suggested.
In the digital age, patients who thirst for more information have it at their fingertips. Mahoney said it is vital for radiologists to point patients to valuable and accurate information. Patients, who may have questions about their upcoming visit or ongoing care, can easily be pointed to Radiologyinfo.org, which developed jointly by RSNA and the American College of Radiology as a resource for patients, she said.
4. Send thank-you notes
Dust off those etiquette manuals and write a thank you note. In Mahoney's office, the physician, the technologist, and any office staff who interacted with the patient sign the thank you notes.
The notes don't have to be long, or contain a bunch of medical jargon, she said. Instead, just the act of thanking the patient and providing a touch of humanity can go a long way to strengthening the patient-doctor relationship and ultimately the patient's care.
5. Take the pledge
Last year, RSNA launched its Radiology Cares campaigned aimed at getting radiologists to pledge to interact more directly with patients. The campaign launched after studies showed that many patients failed to recognize radiologists were trained physicians, let alone understood the role radiologists play in their care.
If you do nothing else, Mahoney said, sign the pledge. "It sounds like a little thing … but by doing it, at least you are thinking about it," she said. "Then you are at least engaged in the process of being patient-centered."