Many patients complain that their physicians do not make themselves available to them so that they can ask questions and get their medical tests done sooner than later. These issues are particularly serious in time sensitive conditions such as cancer, where every day the cancer quickly progresses. But some radiologists are saying that they are going to make a conscious effort to improve.

The New York Times reports on the accessibility of doctors and how it affects patients. One doctor decided to work on patients’ accessibility to doctors after she had her own experience of lack of accessibility when her husband had rectal cancer.

Dr. Kemp first got the patient experience when she found out that her husband had advanced rectal cancer. She had difficulty in getting the answers she needed fast and felt helpless. Dr. Kemp said the anxiety she felt in the situation was overwhelming.

Mr. Kemp was having scans every three months. When the scan would come it would take at least an hour to read it. Dr. Kemp said she finally realized how painstaking it could be to even wait an hour to get a result. She said with some scans it would even take twenty four hours to read them and that is after the fact that she had connections to get things done faster. Average patients have to wait two or three days or sometimes even longer.

Dr. Kemp started to wonder how other patients must feel in these situations. She realized that it should not take days or sometimes weeks for patients to get the results of their scans. Dr. Kemp then decided to do something about this issue.

What did she do about this issue?

“She now heads a committee of the Radiological Society of North America that strives to make radiologists more accessible to patients, including by giving test results right away if asked, by either meeting with patients or talking to them on the phone. Dr. Kemp does that and gives all her patients and their doctors her direct telephone number,” according to The Times.

Other groups are also trying to emulate what Dr. Kemp has done, because the system has not been fair to patients. The American College of Radiology has a similar goal to Dr. Kemp’s. The groups say the time is right to start making things more informative for patients.  More and more patients are insisting on knowing how and why doctors make certain decisions about their care. And more and more medical clinics and physicians’ offices are allowing patients to log on and see their medical records, which can include reports on many types of scans.

None of these groups are advocating laws requiring radiologists to tell patients their results. Rather, they hope to make their case by showing how some radiologists have successfully managed to communicate with patients and by letting radiologists know this is something patients want to happen. The groups have talked about their ideas with members and published them in journals and on websites to spread the word.

What problems could arise that would keep change from immediately starting?

The Times explains, “But many people never consider asking to speak to a radiologist and many doctors seem to have no relationships with radiologists — they just hand patients a prescription for a scan and let them get it wherever they want. So change might take some doing.”

Why do some doctors dislike directly talking to patients?

Researchers find that some radiologists say talking directly to patients is abhorrent. This is because when it comes to radiologists, despite them having an M.D. degree, they cannot answer questions about drugs or surgery; and without knowing the clinical history they may not know if abnormalities are important. Also doctors probably would not refer patients to a radiologist who blurts out a scan’s results.

Some patients say they cannot understand why their radiologists tell their results to their doctors and not to them. Many radiologists say they prefer to contact the person’s doctor first. Usually only in the cases of mammograms do radiologists meet with patients immediately afterwards. Many radiologists worry that patients will panic if they tell them the result first. Some experts are suggesting a shift in culture where the radiologist gets to know the referring doctor better as well as the patient so that both parties feel better about the radiologist directly telling the patient the results.

To learn about a radiology center that failed to acknowledge they violated their own rules and procedures I invite you to watch the video below...


Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
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