Presentations on this topic were part of a series of Patient Focus sessions led by the European Society of Radiology (ESR) Patient Advisory Group (ESR-PAG).
“Under no circumstances refuse to talk to a patient: before, during and of course after the examination,” emphasized Dr. Dominique Carrié, a clinical radiologist who is a member of ESR-PAG and the French Society of Radiology ( SFR). “Come out of the darkroom, your presence is important.”
Effective communication and patient care
According to the speakers, the following are key benefits that can be achieved through effective communication and by taking the time to communicate:
- Gain patients’ trust and confidence to gain their consent to conduct an investigation
- Provide better patient care
- Deliver a better patient experience
- Provide better results
- Increase patient safety
- Improve patient satisfaction
- Help avoid potential medico-legal conflicts
- Reduce security errors
The potential benefits are strong; Nevertheless, there is often a lack of communication, as the results of a patient survey by the ESR show. Responses were received from 400 patients from 22 countries in the EU. 36% of respondents indicated that they were dissatisfied with the information provided on the risks and benefits of the procedures and 33% indicated that they were dissatisfied with the availability of radiologists for the consultation, possibly indicating that some Patients do not have enough information to fully participate in treatment decisions. One conclusion of the study was that “simple actions could have a significant impact on improving communication and patient satisfaction.”
“We are the experts who give patients information, advice and reassurance. We have to make time for the patients,” emphasized Dr. Jonathan L. Portelli, PhD, L-Universita ta Malta.
Recommendations for effective communication in radiology
The speakers agreed that it takes practice and perhaps training to become an effective educator. The following is a summary of specific radiology tips from ECR presenters for effective communication with patients.
- Introduce yourself and your role.
- Explain what to do, expect, feel and/or hear.
- Emphasize the benefit of the examination and at the same time point out the lower radiation risk associated with it.
- If there are notices – such as posters – that contain helpful patient information, point them out. Don’t assume the patient has read them.
- Ask patients, “What would you like to know?”
- Give clear answers about radiation risks.
- Limit your conversation to what you know.
Cheryl Cruwys, founder of Breast Density Matters UK and patient representative on the editorial board of ecancer.org, stressed the importance of providing information prior to examinations to give patients enough time to read and digest the information. In addition, she recommended that communications should be available in different forms, such as videos, and in different languages.
Review: share results
The following recommendations were made by Carrié at the ECR 2022.
- If you share the results of a diagnostic exam, do so in a confidential place and with the ability to show and share the x-rays. The “place” can be in a physical office or a conference call.
- Start by introducing yourself and your role. Talk about your knowledge and experience. If there are people other than the patient in the meeting, ask about their relationship to the patient. In the case of a virtual conference, clarify who is speaking – the patient or a representative.
- Present the information, paying attention to their body language and other clues to their understanding. Adjust your answers as needed to make them understood.
- When the results are serious, deliver them with empathy. The information is better received by the patient when there is empathy. After messaging, pause to give the patient time to respond.
- In all situations, ask questions and listen carefully to understand what is being asked.
- In the end, open the door for further support such as additional imaging or testing, especially if the pathology is severe. Provide the names of a specialist or a specific hospital if surgery is required.
“Throughout communication, make sure you are understood and give people an opportunity to ask questions,” urged Jonathan McNulty, associate professor and associate director of teaching and learning at the College of Health and Agricultural Sciences and associate dean School of Medicine at University College Dublin. “Remember that communication is a two-way transaction between two parties.”
Obstacles to effective communication with patients
The speakers made strong arguments for the value of communication to improve patient care in radiology. Still, there are obstacles. One is a lack of training for radiologists and radiologists in communication skills. According to a study by ESR, 63.7% of radiologists are rarely or never trained in communication.
A second challenge is that some referring physicians do not want radiologists to provide results, preferring to provide the information themselves. Patients presented at ESR questioned this idea, stating they have a right to hear the results as they become available.
Third, some radiologists worry about the time it takes to open the door to patient consultations. However, Carrié said only about 5% to 10% of patients ask to speak — a manageable number.
After all, some radiologists just don’t want to have the conversations, Carrié said. He recommended, in the case of radiologists on call, that one radiologist be designated each week to answer calls.
Taking the initiative to improve your communication skills was a powerful call to action for radiologists and technologists throughout the Patients in Focus series. Although patient benefits are the most important, improving your communication skills will also help you communicate with colleagues and improve team dynamics.
In addition, “working with patients will give you a renewed sense of pride in being a radiologist,” Carrié said.
“Communication is a skill,” McNulty said. “You won’t always be a perfect communicator, but you can always try harder. We only have limited time for patients. It’s important to make the best of it.”
Resources to improve patient communication in radiology
Patient-centred care in diagnostic radiography: An educational toolkit from the University of Derby
Personalized care institute
Poster: Always think of your patient’s needs, from the European Society of Radiology
Society of Radiographers: Communication of radiation benefit and risk information to individuals under the Ionizing Radiation (Medical Exposure) (IR(ME)R) Regulations
This article was originally published on Carestream all wheel Blog: Improving patient care through effective communication with radiology.
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