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Strengthening Radiology Report Literacy for Patients

The average adult struggles to understand patient radiology reports, since they contain language written for and by medical professionals. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology found that patient resources from MedlinePlus, RadLex, and PORTER (Patient-Oriented Radiology Reporter) produce imaging procedure results that are often unintelligible for patients.

Teresa Martin-Carreras, MD, and Charles E. Kahn Jr., MD, MS from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania sought out to determine if the radiology department’s lay-language radiology glossary could help patients gain a better understanding of the terms utilized in 10,000 randomly selected radiology reports generated by MedlinePlus, RadLex, and PORTER.

They found that, “The mean number of terms matched per radiology report was 3.8 for MedlinePlus, 40.7 for RadLex, and 42.0 for PORTER. RadLex and PORTER offered significantly greater coverage than MedlinePlus (P < .0001); there was no significant difference between RadLex and PORTER. Median readability score (grade level) of definitions was 10.1 for MedlinePlus, 12.6 for RadLex, and 4.1 for PORTER.”

“The glossary’s coverage was similar to that of RadLex, which is much larger and more technical, making it better suited for health professionals rather than patients,” write Dr. Martin-Carreras and Dr. Kahn. “The results suggest that a domain-specific glossary may help explain significantly more of the content of radiology reports. Incorporating a lay-language radiology glossary, such as PORTER, into a patient-oriented health portal to annotate online radiology reports may help patients better understand the results of their imaging procedures.”

According to the report, 70 percent of Penn patients found that the glossary helped them develop a stronger understanding of their radiology report. The researchers recommend that other institutions adopt a glossary into their patient systems in order to increase health literacy rates. They also plan on expanding the glossary by adding links to Wikipedia articles and “public domain illustrations.”

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Comment by Sam Friedman, M.D. on January 16, 2018 at 11:24am

Nice idea, but I still strongly believe patients should NOT be viewing their reports without their clinician. 


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