Seeing Pictures, Building Trust: The Evolving Relationship Between Patient and Radiologist

Radiologists are increasingly concerned with how best to serve the needs of their patients. Communicating directly with patients about their imaging exams has not historically been a part of the radiologist’s job; rather, radiologists often discuss the results of studies with the physicians who ordered them, and those physicians subsequently communicate the result to the patient. However, some have questioned in recent years whether radiologists should be communicating directly with patients.  Many patients aren’t well educated as to the role of the radiologist in medical care, and this type of interaction might increase the visibility and perceived value of radiologists to the public.


When Dr. David Naeger and colleagues conducted a patient survey to determine whether patients wanted to receive their radiology images, some new information emerged.

“We learned that while more than half of patients wanted to receive the results of their imaging studies from the physicians who ordered them, nearly half also wanted to receive copies of their radiology report. This latter interaction provides an opportunity for our patients to get to know us better.”

Given that patients haven’t historically interacted with radiologists, it’s not surprising many don't consider asking to speak to one. But how might radiologists educate patients on services which could address their future needs? Radiologists are often in the best position to discuss the imaging tests and their findings. Also, radiologists are the experts on which imaging tests are needed next if there are still questions unanswered.

Naeger explained, “Some radiology groups provide a phone line and print on the radiology report, ‘If you have questions, call this office.’” Patients then have an opportunity to understand more about the condition under review, or another finding that was detected by imaging.

“We should also make sure patients know that, at UCSF, subspecialty experts read their images,” said Naeger. “Learning that their radiologist isn’t a technologist, or even a generalist imaging expert, can build trust in the read. At UCSF, for example, experts in lung imaging, provide all of the interpretation of lung imaging exams. This is especially important in situations like long-term or chronic conditions, when follow-up imaging is needed.”

Naeger also points out that while improving the radiologist-patient relationship is of primary concern, there may be secondary benefits in that we can better educate patients about recent advancements that have dramatically reduced the radiation dose of many medical imaging exams. Armed with that information, patients can make more informed decisions about receiving imaging services in the future.

David Naeger, MD, is an associate professor of clinical radiology at the University of California, San Francisco. He focuses on medical student education and serves as the course director for three senior elective courses, including the most popular elective offered by the medical school, Radiology 140.03 "Diagnostic Radiology." Dr. Naeger is also co-director of the Henry I. Goldberg Center for Advanced Imaging Education and the co-chair of the Medical Student Education Committee. Dr. Naeger was inducted into the Haile T. Debas Academy of Medical Educators in 2014 in recognition of his substantial contributions to medial education. Dr. Naeger received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, and completed a residency in Diagnostic Radiology at UCSF. Dr. Naeger completed a chief residency year and was selected as the UCSF Elmer Ng Outstanding Resident in Diagnostic Radiology. Dr. Naeger completed fellowships in both cardiac and pulmonary imaging and nuclear medicine at UCSF.  Dr. Naeger’s research and interests consist of two main focus areas. First, he is interested in developing, evaluating, and publishing about novel curricular programs that enhance the education of medical students and residents in radiology. Second, Dr. Naeger publishes on the clinical considerations in the daily interpretation of radiologic images. This includes research that focuses on contrast enhancement, cardiac imaging, and the imaging of pulmonary conditions


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