Patients Access to Radiology Reports – Perspectives and Recent Developments

Radiology Reports

Timely and accurate imaging reports are critical to help physicians determine the optimal course of care. Radiology transcription services play a key role in help radiologists prepare their reports. Today, hospitals offer patients access to radiology reports through secure online portals. Under a new information-blocking provision included in the 21st Century Cures Act, radiology practices are required to ensure a more timely release of imaging reports to patients.

Benefits of Reporting to Patients

Conventionally, radiologists reported results to the referring physician, and it was the referring physician who informed patients about their radiology results. With the recognition of individuals’ right to their medical information, there has been a shift in this practice and patients can now access their electronic health record, including radiology reports. Experience shows that allowing patients direct access to their radiology reports has a positive impact:

  • Reinforces patient-clinician communication
  • Enables radiologists to becomes more involved in their patients’ treatment decisions
  • Improves health literacy and helps patients use information and services to take informed health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others
  • Gives patients the opportunity to understand their reports before they see their doctor
  • Encourages patients to become more involved in their care and self-management of their disease
  • Clear and full radiology reports can be shared by patients with other specialists to obtain further explanations, second opinion, or continuous treatments
  • Boosts teamwork and care coordination

The components of radiology reports transcribed by medical transcription companies include the type of exam, clinical history, comparison with previous exam, technique, findings, and impression, which is the radiologist’s summary of the findings. Much of the early opposition to giving patients access to their imaging reports was due to the concern that patients wouldn’t be able to understand the content of the reports and could easily misinterpret the results for the worst (

New Law Mandates more Timely Release of Imaging Reports to Patients

The information-blocking provision of the Cures Act is aimed at promoting data interoperability and allow immediate access and portability of personal health information by patients, providers and payers. The law requires that electronic reports – including radiology reports – be released to patients immediately after finalization.

Prior to the Information Blocking Rule, most radiology departments had followed time-delayed releases (embargo) of radiology reports to patients. One reason for the delayed approach was technologic feasibility barriers. A more typical reason was to give the treating physician who ordered the test to first receive, review and discuss the radiology report with their patient. One study found that embargo periods varied among the surveyed institutions from 1-3 days (34.4%) to 7-14 days (9.4%) and indefinite (20.3%) ( With the new rule, researchers are expecting a major change in practice with regards to patients’ early access to radiology report. Radiology departments are preparing to eliminate the embargos and provide patients with prompt access to their radiology reports.

Need to make Radiology Reports more Patient Friendly

It’s not enough to give patients quick access to their imaging reports – radiologists need to make the reports more patient friendly. In fact, a new study published in Insights into Imaging found that patients were not satisfied with current radiology reports because the reported results were not easy to understand. The study which was based on an online discussion forum analysis found that:

  • There is a big gap between patients’ understanding and current radiology reports
  • Online question and answer platforms are an important option to understand about patient needs
  • Patients’ need to understand their reports should always be taken into consideration
  • Providing appropriate reports that patients understand should be a priority

The researchers concluded that radiologists should focus on designing a consumer-friendly radiology report that focuses on major patient concerns.

As radiologists prepare to provide speedy patient access to their imaging reports, a team from Massachusetts General Hospital radiology department offered several recommendations to streamline the process and improve patient understanding of their imaging reports (

  • Providing a short summary at the end of reports in lay language to help patients better understand their results.
  • Including a message for the patient about whether findings are normal or abnormal
  • Add any recommended next steps to help ease patient worries
  • Change workflow and operations to shorten the interval between imaging and appointments to about 48 hours.
  • Include the radiologist’s phone number on the imaging report. Conversations with the radiologist can improve a patient’s understanding of imaging results.
  • Provide patients with simple definitions of complex terms as well as pictures or links to information sources

Radiology transcription services play an important role in ensuring accurate, complete, and timely radiology reports to enhance the quality of patient care. As the nation moves towards a more transparent health records, an experienced medical transcription company can help organizations improve data interoperability and facilitate easy patient access to medical records, including radiology reports.