Technology has expanded medical resource accessibility for both physicians and patients. Online portals foster stronger and more effective communication, allowing patients to get hands-on insight on their diagnosis, treatment plans, and imaging reports. However, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, despite the fact that these radiology reports are intended to be educational resources, patients struggle to understand the vast quantities of their medical vocabulary.
For the study, a group of researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine led by Nadja Kadom, MD, read 55,575 radiology reports written by Emory staff. They graded the reports based on readability using a five-point scoring algorithm. Overall, they found that the vast majority of the reports were written for readers at a twelfth-grade level whereas guidelines recommend they use only fourth to sixth grade level vocabulary. Out of all the specialty reports, neuroimaging was the “least readable” and mammography reports were the easiest for patients to understand.
In the past, researcher physicians have advocated for implementing a domain-specific glossary in radiology reports so that patients can better understand imaging terminology. Dr. Kadom’s team suggests a multimedia approach to reporting that features link to terms, diagrams, and text modules that define the details of diagnosis.
“Although improving patients’ understanding of radiology reports is a very important goal, initiatives to improve the readability levels of radiology reports could result in unintended consequences,” wrote the researchers. “In contrast to patients, provider and payer stakeholders, such as radiologists, referring physicians and insurers, typically seek nuanced granularity for imaging comparison purposes, clinical decision-making and insurance coverage.”