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Studying the Patient Experience in Imaging

By Jim Knaub

According to a 2014 paper on patient experience in the radiology department of the MD Anderson Cancer Center published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, there are differences between what patients and radiologists see as a quality patient experience. For example, in the study’s survey, radiologists considered convenient scheduling, patient comfort, and prompt response to questions to be the key drivers of a positive patient experience. However, patients most valued physicians and staff listening to and acknowledging their concerns and treating them with respect.

While understanding others’ perspective is pretty important in general, it takes on added significance in health care when patient experience becomes a more direct component of reimbursement under value-based reimbursement arrangements. Patient experience and satisfaction is often considered a secondary topic—not intentionally ignored, but ultimately pushed aside by other aspects of delivering medical care—but it’s a central component of a successful health care organization. Hospitality industry businesses study and curate customer experience. The health care version of customer/patient experience differs from that in a restaurant or hotel and deserves serious attention. That’s likely where the ACR’s Quality Experience Committee fits into the picture.

“We want to ensure that all stakeholders’ points of view, perspectives, and experiences are further integrated into the radiologist-patient relationship, transforming current culture and leading to improved patient care and satisfaction,” says James V. Rawson, MD, FACR, commission chair, in a press release announcing new committee members. “Quality Experience Committee members will also explore how to incorporate the needs, wants, and values of our patients and communities in the development of standards and guidelines.”

It makes good sense for radiology societies to engage in this effort. Some people are naturally skilled in these areas—others, not so much. It’s also true that most diagnostic radiologists have much less patient contact than other physicians.

As a patient, I’ve actually seen my radiologist in exactly two situations; one of those was just a radiologist scurrying across the hallway at an imaging center. The other time a very personable radiologist inserted a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line in my arm when I needed IV antibiotics.

This is not a knock on radiologists in any way; my experience as a patient has been pretty straightforward and required little interaction—just a modest number of routine exam interpretations. The doctor who placed the PICC line explained the procedure and answered all my questions thoroughly. My experience with radiologists is probably pretty common.

I’ve also heard radiologists talk often about the lost productivity of leaving the reading room continually to answer patient questions. There’s merit there, certainly in a predominantly fee-for-service situation, but I think the benefit will become apparent as a greater portion of reimbursement shifts away from fee-for-service. Organized radiology is trying to help its members plan for that scenario. It’s worth radiologists’ attention to examine studied approaches to the patient experience.

The Quality Experience Committee is chaired by pediatric interventional radiologist C. Matthew Hawkins, MD, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Ashima Lall, MD, MBA, director of PET/CT imaging at Riddle Memorial Hospital in Media, Pennsylvania, serves as vice chair. Committee members include Donna Adams, patient adviser, Augusta University Medical Center; Gregg W. Bean, MD, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Anne Brittain, PhD, RT(R)(M)(QM), CPHQ, FASRT, Palmetto Health; Garry Choy, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital; Jonathan Flug, MD, MBA, University of Colorado School of Medicine; Ellen M. Chung, MD, Uniformed Services University of Health Services; David R. Gruen, MD, MBA, FACR, Stamford Health; Paul G. Nagy, PhD, FSIIM, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Sumir Suresh Patel, MD, Emory University School of Medicine; Sabiha Raoof, MD, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and Flushing Hospital Medical Center; Andrew L. Rivard, MD, MS, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi; Lorie Stumpo, MD, resident, Augusta University; and Nikhil Thaker, MD, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

— Jim Knaub is editor of Radiology Today.