People typically imagine a radiologist as a professional sitting in a dark room in semi-isolation, so it may seem odd that radiology is even contemplating joining the patient-centric movement. But patient-centered care has infiltrated the healthcare discussion in many specialties, including radiology.
Radiologists are owning their role in patient care and as the leaders in diagnosis across the entire healthcare enterprise. As medical imaging continues to play a central role in the diagnosis, screening and surveillance of disease, its proliferation often puts radiologists at the center of the multidisciplinary team taking care of each patient. The American College of Radiology has even introduced the Commission on Patient- and Family-Centered Care and placed at least one patient on every committee to further emphasize the importance of the patient-centered care movement in radiology.
To effectively implement meaningful, patient-centered programs and ultimately integrate a patient-centric mentality into the fabric of everything radiology requires a number of technological tools — some that are already available and others that are still on the horizon.
Image-Sharing Needs to Make the Jump from CD to 21st Century
The need for image-sharing technology may seem obvious. However, many radiology departments still are not able to get images from other departments electronically. They continue to rely on patients to provide CDs of scans in order to upload the images onto the local picture archiving and communication systems (PACS). Few things in healthcare, other than the fax machine, seem more outdated than that. This shortcoming significantly impacts patient care.
A number of published studies reveal that a substantial percentage of all imaging performed in the U.S. are repetitive and could be avoided if outside images were readily available. While some of these instances are in acute, emergent situations, too many are done non-emergently due to a lack of CDs and electronic sharing of images.
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta currently uses existing image-sharing software, which allows us to quickly “push” and/or “pull” images between facilities as needed. When images are easily portable electronically, facilities can avoid repeat imaging studies and patients benefit as their care can be expedited. This is particularly relevant for patients who may require a surgical or minimally-invasive intervention upon arrival at a new hospital.
One future consideration for tech developers would be to automate the image-sharing process when a patient is transferred from one facility to another. Automatically transferring patients’ imaging studies (rather than requiring studies to be manually requested by the receiving institution) would be an elegantly simple, patient-centered solution that could streamline care and further reduce unnecessary imaging.
Next-Generation Scheduling Tech Could Take Radiology to the Next Level
If someone ever decides to host a patient focus group to learn about the pain points for patients as it relates to radiology departments, the scheduling process will undoubtedly come up. So often, patients are forced to navigate through a centralized scheduling system for the entire healthcare system, eventually get transferred to the radiology department, and then schedule an appointment that is quite possibly double-booked at a facility not of their choosing.
The appointment is often made by phone with a subsequent automated phone call reminder the day before the exam. Patients are offered very little, if any, information about what to expect on the day of their study. If they’re lucky, the imaging center may provide directions. It is very much unlike any other type of scheduling experience we have with other industries — just think of the ease of OpenTable for restaurant bookings.
Instead, imagine if patients were offered an online scheduling option where they could select their preferred facility and time, based on available appointment slots. Once scheduled, the app could automatically populate the patient’s calendar with a reminder and an address that can be used in a navigation app to help the patient plan the trip to the facility.
Modern scheduling software may allow patients to reschedule the study if they can’t make an appointment or even offer a notification system to let patients know about a cancellation, allowing them to reschedule their appointments earlier. Even better, this app could provide a brief video about the procedure, with pictures from the imaging center the patient will visit, and share pre-procedure instructions, including fasting instructions if necessary.
While no facility has yet employed a scheduling app this sophisticated, a number of facilities are at least now offering online scheduling, which has been greatly received by patients. Other facilities are also reaching out to patients with videos about their imaging exams, which are often delivered electronically days prior to the exam. Bundling a number of these existing technologies into a single application would be a patient-centered step in the right direction.
Results Notification Tools Keep Patients in the Loop
The time between when an imaging study is completed and the final interpretation is rendered can be anxiety provoking. In fact, that may be an understatement. Any patient who is awaiting a diagnosis after an imaging study is likely to say that any amount of time during this waiting period is too long. As such, there are a number of ways that radiology departments could make this process more patient-centered.
For example, patients might receive a text when their imaging study has been interpreted. If this message system uses a service or app more sophisticated than traditional SMS, the message may also include the final report, an option to view a patient-targeted “lay” interpretation of the report, the amount of time the results will be embargoed in the electronic medical record (if applicable), the radiologist who interpreted the images, and even a number to call if the patient would like to review the images with a radiologist.
Many patients may prefer to review the images with their primary doctor or specialty physician. In that instance, patient-centered software might notify patients not only when the study has been interpreted, but also when their physicians have reviewed the report.
Many facilities have adopted patient portals that allow patients to obtain imaging reports. However, this approach requires the patient to actively log on to the electronic portal and be able to comprehend the report. While this is a step in the right direction, there are clearly improvements that could be made to the results notification process to improve its patient-centeredness.
By implementing already-existing technology in creative, meaningful ways, there are a number of areas in which radiology departments can become more patient-centered in the future.