(Slightly Belated) New Year’s Resolutions

What will you do this year to become a better radiologist?

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Although January is usually the time for New Year’s resolutions, I decided to wait until February before discussing them. I wanted to give everyone time get moving on goals to lose weight, eat heathier, exercise more, or learn a new language. These are all noble resolutions, but they only relate to our personal lives. How many times do we make resolutions about our professional life? I’m not sure I have ever done it.

So this year, I have decided to make three resolutions for my professional life in 2016. I hope many of you will consider joining me. This month I’ll outline my first resolution. That will give all of us time to get started before the final two resolutions in my March column.

My first resolution is to do something every day to increase my focus on my patients. Whether you are a novice on patient-centered radiology or an expert, it is always possible to do one more thing. And it’s the sum of those “one more things” that will ultimately transform our specialty.

If you haven’t started a patient-focused program in your department, your waiting areas are a great place to start. Walk through a few times a day and take a look around. Does the environment feel welcoming and friendly? For patients, perceptions may become reality. Does your waiting area seem too crowded? Do you offer ways to help patients pass the time when delays are unavoidable? Understanding the dynamics of what’s happening in the waiting areas can tell us a lot about our underlying processes for scheduling and reception, which can then help us improve methods. We can ensure that the entire team is committed to improving patient experience.

While you are in the waiting areas, say hello to a few patients and their families. Tell them who you are and what you do. Thank them for choosing your hospital or imaging center. Just think, if 15,000 radiologists spoke to just three patients every day, we would reach 45,000 patients. That’s 16,425,000 patients each year. I cannot imagine any better advertising for our specialty.
Enhancing our communication with our patients should be on the short list of the things we can do better. Much has been written about discussing results directly with patients. Some patients will appreciate the opportunity to discuss the imaging results with radiologists; others would rather hear the results from the physician who ordered the test.

That said, I am convinced that when patients express a desire to review their results with us, we should make ourselves available. Whether it’s a phone conversation or an in-person meeting, we are our patients’ physicians, and we owe them this courtesy. Our colleagues who have set up systems to facilitate discussions with patients report that the time commitment has been manageable and has not been disruptive to workflow. Consider this as we make our reports available through our patient portals and elsewhere. Let’s associate that with an opportunity for an in-person discussion and embrace the opportunity to enhance our communication with patients.

Recognizing that radiation exposure is a concern for many of our patients, we can demonstrate our commitment to patient safety through our participation in the Image Gently® and Image Wisely® programs. Additionally, benchmarking tools such the ACR Dose Index Registry® help ensure our CT protocols are consistent with best practices regionally and nationally. Registry participation will also be a good head start on preparing for future payment models. Reporting quality metrics such as radiation exposure through Qualified Clinical Data Registries is one of the least disruptive ways to comply with the mandates of value-based payment systems.

Finally, I encourage you to visit the RSNA’s Radiology Cares website (radiologycares.org) and the ACR’s patient-focused Imaging 3.0™ case studies. These are great resources for those of us looking to making our practices more patient focused. Our colleagues have shared many stories about how they enhance patients’ and their families’ experience in radiology. Their examples and recommendations cover the gamut from beginner to advanced. Look for more ideas from the ACR Commission on Patient- and Family-Centered Care later this year. For those of you ready for patient- and family-centered radiology graduate school, consider sharing your own stories and experiences with us at Imaging 3.0 and Radiology Cares.

If you are still wondering whether improving the patient experience in your department will be valuable to the bottom line, consider this: the 2014 Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program links a portion of our hospitals’ Medicare payments directly to patient experience, and hospitals are required by CMS to participate in Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). The HCAHPS survey focuses on patient experience and is an important determinant of our hospitals’ value-based payments. At a time when hospital payments for imaging services are declining and continue to be at risk, what better way for radiologists to reassert our value to our hospitals by making our HCAPHS scores the highest in the system? If our hospitals see radiology as the leader in patient experience, we increase our leverage for purchasing new equipment and tools to further improve patient experience and provide value-based care.

As I embark on my professional resolution, I plan to start by improving patient experience in our department. I hope that if you make resolutions to enhance your professional life, you will consider ways to enhance our patients’ experiences in radiology. Next month we will focus on how we can increase our value to our referring physicians and health systems and promote our specialty to medical students and policy-makers. At the same time, I also resolve to make sure our organization provides all the support you need to accomplish your professional goals.

Allenheadshot By Bibb Allen Jr., MD, FACR, Chair

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