Radiologists can't afford to be invisible to patients

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Whether deserved or not, radiology has the reputation of a specialty that's practiced in the dark, out of sight from patients.

Now, however, it appears that radiology may be a little too invisible. Research presented last week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago shows that there is little understanding--even among patients who've undergone medical imaging--of the role radiologists play in medicine.

The study, out of the Indiana University School of Medicine, found that out of a group of 307 patients undergoing computed tomography, 64 percent had little or no idea what radiologists do, while 53 percent didn't even know radiologists were physicians.

"Many patients would like to know more about the role of radiologists in their healthcare," lead author Richard B. Gunderman, a professor and vice chair of radiology at Indiana University, said. "These findings present an important educational opportunity for radiology practices."

Some radiologists have, in fact, been arguing that the perceived invisibility of the specialty could imperil the profession's future.

In a 2010 article in Radiology, Gary Glazer, M.D. and Julie Ruiz-Wibbelsmann, Ph.D., argued that the trend toward invisibility in radiology mirrors what has happened in pathology. Pathologists, they pointed out, have seen their contact with patients diminish over time, with a corresponding decline in the status of the specialty.

So how can radiologists avoid a similar fate? Improved communication with patients, for starters. Stephen Brown, M.D., of Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, in an exclusive interview with FierceMedicalImaging, talks about a program he and his colleagues have initiated that helps radiologists--particularly those just starting out--develop the needed interpersonal and communication skills necessary for successful interaction with patients.

Improving patient-radiologist communication is just one way radiologists can enhance their relationships with their patients and become more visible. The new RSNA initiative "Radiology cares: the art of patient-centered  practice," has specific objectives the specialty should be pursuing. For interested radiologists, it's worth a look. - Mike