Patients Want Online Access to Radiology Reports

April 6, 2012

Most patients want online access to their test results - even if the findings are difficult to understand.

Most patients want online access to their radiology test results - even if the findings are difficult to understand and their doctor might not be available to discuss them right away.

That’s according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center presented 53 adult imaging center patients with three simulated scenarios designed to determine if, and how quickly, patients want online access to radiology test results.

"Our study showed that even though the participants didn't completely understand the medical terminology, they wanted to be able to read the detailed report as soon as possible," said Annette Johnson, MD, associate professor of radiology at Wake Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study.

Johnson noted that the traditional route for delivering results - verbally through a referring physician - can create delays and barriers in communication, as well as cause patient anxiety. Patient portals, on the other hand, are increasingly providing patients with secure online access to their records, and patients are increasingly demanding that information.

In the Wake Forest Baptist study, 81 percent of the participants said they likely would use an online portal to access radiologic test results if given the option. Forty-three percent said they preferred the online portal over other forms of communication, including a phone call, mailed letter, email, or return visit with their doctor. Patients also said they preferred immediate access to results, and more than 80 percent wanted access within three days.

According to Johnson, very few U.S. hospitals offer patients online access to radiology reports, and delay to view results is usually a week or more. Wake Forest Baptist is secure patient-access web portal that will have a three-day turnaround time when it is launched this fall.

Johnson and colleagues also noted that more research needs to be done on the effects of immediate access on provider workflow and the potential patient anxiety and autonomy.

The three scenarios presented were: a patient suffering from headaches whose head CT showed a normal-appearing brain but some sinusitis; a patient experiencing double vision whose brain MRI showed multiple brain lesions from an unknown cause, possibly multiple sclerosis or vasculitis; and a patient with back pain and right leg weakness whose MRI showed cancer compressing spinal nerves.