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Patient Awareness Opens Lines of Communication in Radiology

Life is full of surprises! Who doesn’t love a good surprise? But what happens when surprises arise in the medical field? These are known as incidental findings. According to the American College of Radiology, an incidental finding is a previously undiagnosed medical or psychiatric condition that is discovered unintentionally and during evaluation for a medical or psychiatric condition – whether it be an xray, MRI, CT scan, or other imaging modalities.

Incidental findings can be minor issues that doctors can treat on the spot. Other findings can be life-altering and need further attention. There is a serious and imminent danger to uncommunicated incidental findings. An article in Relias Media shares a story about an untold finding.

“A recent malpractice claim involved a woman in her 50s who presented to an ED with nausea and abdominal pain. An ultrasound revealed gallstones. The radiologist report noted a cystic lesion on the patient’s kidney. The woman underwent a laparoscopic cholecystectomy but was never informed about the incidental finding. Two years later, her primary care physician detected the mass during a routine physical.” 

Why do incidental findings go unreported? The first reason is due to a lack of patient awareness. Their physician may verbally tell them their results, but they may never review the report themselves. A physician may fail to disclose all the information if incidental findings are not dire news; they may worry that they are burdening the patient with too much information. However, it is a patient’s right to be fully aware of their own health and new regulation may soon make that law. 

Additionally, radiologists may recommend secondary screenings for follow-up, but many patients do not go through with the additional imaging. Radiologists do not have the ability to automatically track their patients to see if they have completed the recommended follow-ups. According to Health Imaging, Dalal, along with Philips Research North America’s Clinical Informatics Solutions and Services and colleagues, tested a previously designed recommendation detection algorithm.

“A system to proactively send reminders to referrers, primary care providers, and patients can ensure that patients receive the timely care they need.” A master system like this is not currently employed among health systems, but could become useful in the future.

Instead of relying on others, what are the steps that a patient can take to make sure they are fully aware of their own results? We’ve shared a few of our tips below! 

  1. Ask for reports and copies of imaging.
    1. Don’t forget to ask for your health reports and images – X Rays, CT, and MRI scans. Feel free to take notes during appointments to make sure you are retaining pertinent and accurate information. These reports and copies of images are important for you to review in order to make sure you are asking the right questions. The language in medical reports can be tricky and confusing – make sure you take the time to understand what is being reported about your body – and if you have questions, make sure to ask them.  
  1. Always make sure to list and prioritize your concerns. 
    1. Physicians are more burned-out than ever with increasing aging patient populations and appointments may often feel rushed as a result. Prioritize symptoms, medications, treatments, or anything else that is affecting your daily life. Your appointment is your time, so why not use it wisely? 
  1. Switch doctors if they are not your cup of tea.
    1. It’s ok to not get along with everyone, but it is important to have a connection with your doctors and have a sense of trust. A sense of trust and respect amongst a doctor and their patient creates a more productive relationship. In a Consumer Reports article, Kevin Grumback, M.D., states “A primary care doctor should be your partner in overall health, not just someone you go to for minor problems or referral to specialty care.” 

The world of doctors’ offices and testing is unnerving to some, so it is important for doctors and administrative staff to thoroughly explain why certain procedures and exams are being given. By clearly writing out instructions for follow-up testing and giving patients time to ask questions, hospitals and health practices can enable their patients to be more informed about their personal health. Knowing what an incidental finding is, and following these tips can help patients navigate their next appointment more confidently.

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About Rebecca Schankerman

Rebecca Schankerman is a recent graduate from Indiana University with an honors degree in Management and Marketing. Rebecca has a strong passion for marketing and how it plays a role within the healthcare industry. As Ambra’s Field Marketing Coordinator, Rebecca handles all aspects of the events Ambra attends each year within the medical imaging and informatics fields. When she’s not planning the latest Ambra conference or trade show, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.

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