Better Radiologist Communication Eases Patient Anxiety

June 17, 2013

Radiologists who communicate well with patients before and after breast biopsies can help lower patient anxiety levels.

Patients undergoing breast biopsies feel less anxious when they believe the radiologists are listening to them and discussing issues that are concerning them, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Women who undergo breast biopsies often feel very anxious about both the procedure and the possible findings. Researchers from Riverside Radiology and Interventional Associates and Duke University School of Medicine sought to evaluate this anxiety and its association with perceived communication between the patients and the radiologists.

One hundred thirty eight women who had been recommended for imaging-guided breast procedures participated in the study. They completed questionnaires that measured their anxiety levels before and after undergoing their biopsy. The women were also asked to rate their perceived communication with the radiologist who recommended the procedures and of the communication with the radiologist who actually performed the procedure. Among the 138 patients, the same radiologist recommended and performed the biopsies for 28 women.

The researchers found that on State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, the average prebiopsy anxiety level was 44.5 (range was 20 to 77). The average rating of the recommending radiologists’ communication was 52.4 (range was 18 to 65). Post-biopsy anxiety dropped significantly. Better communication with radiologists performing biopsies (mean of 57.8 with a range of 32 to 65) was associated with lower postbiopsy anxiety after accounting for patients' baseline anxiety.

There were no significant differences in anxiety between women who had the same radiologist recommending and performing their biopsies and those who had different radiologists. However, the women who had the same radiologist before and after did record higher communication scores overall. Postbiopsy, these women rated a mean of 62.3 in communication compared with the 56.9 scored from women who had different radiologists.

The researchers also found a difference between white and nonwhite women. White women reported higher prebiopsy and postbiopsy anxiety, while nonwhite women reported poorer communication with recommending radiologists.

The authors concluded that communication did play a role in women’s anxiety before and after breast biopsy. “These results have implications for radiologist training and adherence to mammographic screening,” they wrote.