5 Strategies to Streamline Patient Access to Radiology Reports

February 17, 2021
Whitney J. Palmer

Under new information-blocking rules, practices must take steps to accelerate the timeline for releasing imaging reports to patients.

Several radiology practices are working to meet an underlying requirement of the information-blocking provision included in the 21st Century Cures Act – they are toying with the idea of a more timely release of patient radiology reports through online portals.

This provision is intended to improve data interoperability and make it easier for patients to get access to their health information. It is also a priority for the Biden Administration.

Currently, radiologists can take up to a week to refine their reports and communicate with ordering providers to ensure they decide on the optimal course of care. But, this time lag can frequently prompt patients to worry that their scans have revealed something might be wrong.

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT is taking steps to prevent that anxiety, though. Under a new mandate, set to go into effect by April 5, providers who delay the timely release of personal health information can be fined up to $1 million per incident. To date, enforcement of that rule is pending, and it is currently unclear whether the existing one-week timeframe for releasing radiology reports will fall under this rule.

But, when the American College of Radiology reached out to the ONC for guidance, the response did not offer clear direction, said a group of radiologists from Massachusetts General Hospital in an article published on Feb. 16 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. The ONC acknowledged that radiology practices are not required to proactively release reports if patients have not asked for them, but if they do not, it effectively means patients get their results at the same time as their referring provider.

Given this potential situation, the authors said, many hospitals have come up with a plan for patient access.

Related Content: Time’s Up: Interoperability and patient data access requirements are here

“Many hospitals plan to respond to the information-blocking provision in part by eliminating radiology report embargoes among other strategies for promoting data accessibility,” said the team led by William A. Mehan, Jr., M.D., MBA, co-director of systems harmonization in the Mass General-Brigham radiology department. “Radiologists may struggle to understand and prepare for the impact of immediate patient report access via online portals on their practices, referring providers, and patients.”

To help imaging providers reach this goal, Mehan’s team offered five tips:

  1. Include a short summary at the end of your reports written in lay language to help patients better understand their results. Using artificial intelligence algorithms to pull out pertinent findings and create the summaries could help reduce the possible impact adding a summary might have on workflow.
  2. Add a message directly to the patient, indicating whether his or her findings are normal or abnormal. Include any recommended next steps to help reduce patient worries. A voice-dictation system can make this easier.
  3. Change workflow and operations to truncate the wait time between imaging and appointments to roughly 48 hours. Not only does make it less likely that a patient will see any abnormal results before talking with his or her referring provider, but it also limits their time to worry on their own or to repeatedly call the physician for updates.
  4. Include the radiologist’s phone number on the imaging report. Real-world experience has shown doing so results in a manageable number of phone calls, and it gives providers the opportunity for direct patient contact that could result in increased job satisfaction. These conversations can also enhance a patient’s understanding of imaging results.
  5. Include lay language definitions of complicated terms in the radiology report, as well as pictures or links to information sources directed at patients. This can augment how well a patient understands his or her imaging results. Doing so could require extensive financial and IT resources, however.

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