Patients Uninformed About Imaging

May 4, 2015

Patients who undergo imaging tests could use more information about the examination.

Patients are not always aware of why they are undergoing radiology imaging exams, which limits their ability to participate in their own care, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center performed a survey-based assessment of patients’ knowledge of the radiologic imaging examinations they were about to undergo at the facility.

A total of 176 surveys were completed; 109 by women and 67 by men. Their mean age was 50. The questions asked about patient knowledge of specific aspects of the examination, as well as their experience in being educated about the examination before their appointment. The required responses were either yes/no or scale ratings of 1 to 5 in a Likert-type format. There were also a few free-response items.

Forty-five patients who completed the survey were waiting for CT imaging, 41 for MRI, and 44 for nuclear medicine.

The results showed that 166 of 171 patients (97.1%) were able to correctly identify the examination modality. Of the five who could not, four said they were having a CT, rather than MRI, ultrasound, or nuclear medicine. A total of 170 of 174 patients (97.8%) could identify the body part to be imaged.

However, only 76 of 166 patients (45.8%) could correctly identify if their examination would involve using radiation; 23 of 45 (51.1%) could say if they were receiving intravenous contrast and five of seven (71.4%) if they were receiving oral contrast.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"34798","attributes":{"alt":"radiologists and patients","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_3858484394070","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3707","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 133px; width: 160px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©P E A R L/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

A total of 136 of 173 (78.6%) said that the ordering physician explained the examination in advance and 72.1% of these patients said they were satisfied with the explanation they received.

Some patients reported finding information elsewhere: 38 of 174 (21.8% from the Internet, and 61 of 175 (20.5%) from family members or friends.

Overall, 121 of 171 patients (70.8%) said they had a complete or near-complete understanding of the examination. A total of 32 of 170 patients (18.8%) said they had unanswered questions about the examination, most commonly regarding examination logistics, contrast-agent usage, and when results would be available.

Level of understanding was greatest for CT and least for nuclear medicine examinations, and lower when patients had not previously undergone the given examination.

Ninety of 170 patients (52.9%) expressed interest in discussing the examination with a radiologist before having the test. Finally, a larger percentage of patients who were to undergo CT scanning had a better understanding of the upcoming test than those who were about to undergo nuclear medicine examinations.

The authors concluded that patients often don’t have a full understanding of imaging exams and better education for them could result in enhancing their empowerment and contribute to patient-centered care.