Now Reading: Patients want their radiology test results

Insight From Patients for

Johnson AJ, Easterling D, Williams LS, Glover S, Frankel RM. Insight From Patients for Radiologists: Improving Our Reporting Systems [Internet]. Journal of the American College of Radiology 2009;6(11):786-794.[cited 2009 Nov 5 ] Available from:

Actually, the title of this paper is “Insight From Patients for Radiologists: Improving Our Reporting Systems”

I’ve been heard to say that I don’t know where the rule that “the physician must see the test result before the patient” came from. (Once, someone in an audience responded, “From doctors!”) At the same time, there hasn’t been a lot of data that this de-facto rule isn’t what patients want.

That’s changing.

Not only do we now have information that this rule (“doctor sees results first”) is probably harmful, we are learning that it’s probably not wanted, from physicians, who are talking to patients.

This study is useful both because it addresses the latter issue, and because it is published in the radiology literature.

This study is a review of patient focus groups, with patients invited to discuss their experiences after having either normal MRI scans, or abnormal MRI scans. The results showed that patients had different opinions about who on their care team should discuss their imaging test results with them. However, when it came to getting a copy of those results, the patients were much less divided:

Participants were decidedly in favor of having the option to access test results immediately via an online system. Responding to open-ended questions about this option, they offered the following potential benefits: 1) such a system would allow them to better prepare for their next physician visits, especially to make the most efficient use of limited time with their physicians; 2) such a system would facilitate their ed- ucating themselves about their diseases or conditions; 3) it would empower them and give them more of a “partner”-type relationship with their regular doctors for decision making; 4) it would likely decrease the delay in taking the next steps in their care; and 5) it would facilitate their success in seeking social support.

I think people who have been working and practicing in health systems that offer patients access to their health information have known this for a long time – patients given the choice to access their information in real time achieve much greater benefit than those who are subject to delays, arbitrary or not. This published experience helps to confirm it.

As I have written about previously, the issue of sharing written imaging results has been controversial in the medical community. Imaging reports can be difficult to decipher by patients (sometimes, by doctors, too). They can also have a broad array of information and recommendations that need to be applied to the medical experience of a specific patient.

As a result, only a few organizations routinely share written imaging results with their patients. Does your health care provider/organization share your imaging test results with you? How, and in enough detail? If you’re a health care provider, what do you think of this information?


Good gosh, this is tricky. I run into this all the time with endoscopic biopsy reports. Parents review them, search terms and worry about things that don't exist. Then I have to spend valuable time talkin' 'em off the ledge. I'm conflicted because I desperately want my families involved in the decisions of their kids but I think there are some things that are really hard to understand. What do I do?


Well I love the tone of the comment (and all of your social media writings, actually), which shows curiosity about "how" rather than "if."

I think the best answer to any question is given by the patient, so why don't we ask them here. Can you provide an example of a situation (without identifying information, of course) that you have found yourself in, or worry that you might find yourself in, around endoscopic biopsies? Like a diagnosis or potential diagnosis/finding you might discuss in a report.

Let's talk through it,


Ted Eytan, MD