One Specialty, Two Approaches
ACR and RSNA programs lead the way in patient-centered care.
We've heard the clarion call: Health care's new economics require all providers to transition from volume-based to value-based care. For radiologists, that means shifting our practice paradigm from transactional to consultative and focusing on both interpretation and outcomes.
It's imperative that radiologists become more patient-centered and integral to patient care.
Chances are you're aware of the Imaging 3.0™ initiative. These concrete steps and tools empower all radiologists to take a leadership role in shaping America's future health care system. (Learn more at http://bit.ly/Imaging3Tools.) What you may not know is that RSNA sponsors a related initiative, Radiology Cares™. If you're looking to make your practice more patient centered, a wide range of resources are available. Need a customizable PowerPoint presentation to share with hospital administrators or community groups or a powerful video on the importance of conveying empathy? Do you want to quickly peruse media, trade, and scientific articles on patient-centeredness? It's all part of Radiology Cares.
The Invisibility Factor
By encouraging meaningful physician engagement in the patient experience, RSNA's Radiology Cares campaign offers an effective solution to a common problem: invisibility.
"Even though we actively participate in patient care, we're relatively invisible to the eye of the patient," says William T. Throwarth Jr., MD, FACR, ACR CEO. "We need to been seen as we actually are: active participants in patient care."
RSNA launched Radiology Cares: The Art of Patient-Centered Practice campaign at its 2012 annual meeting and scientific assembly, challenging radiologists to play a more visible and active role. To aid in that effort, RSNA's Patient-Centered Radiology Steering Committee, which oversees the campaign, has put together a library of online tools at www.RadiologyCares.org. Online resources include professionally produced videos, PowerPoint presentations that can be customized for specific audiences, and patient-centered care literature (see sidebar).
Central to the campaign is the Radiology Cares pledge encouraging radiologists and other imaging professionals to commit to more meaningful engagement in the patient experience, with the goal of helping patients make better-informed decisions regarding their health care. Those taking the pledge at www.RadiologyCares.org receive notification about campaign updates and new materials.
Various market forces — from the growth of teleradiology to health care reform and changing reimbursement models — make it more critical than ever for radiologists to prioritize patient satisfaction and strengthen relationships with referring physicians, hospital administrators, and insurers.
"The whole field will lose credibility and respect over time if all we do is read images and are not engaged in the process," says Mary C. Mahoney, MD, FACR, director of breast imaging at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center's Barrett Cancer Center and RSNA Board Liaison for Publications and Communications. "We need to bring more to the table or we'll become less relevant to clinicians and patients."
To become more patient-centered, Thorwarth suggests that radiology pratices conduct self-assessments addressing the entire continuum of care. "We need to be continually asking, 'What are we doing well? Where do we need to improve?'" he says. "Every radiologist knows the value of making the patient experience more positive, from convenient parking to a comfortable waiting area to easy and timely access to results."
While the Radiology Cares campaign suggests increasing face-to-face interaction, Mahoney says talking to patients and sharing results is just one small piece of the overall patient experience. Specific initiatives undertaken to improve that experience — and keep up with the pace of change — will vary from practice to practice.
"There's no such thing as being perfectly centered on the patient," says Brent J. Wagner, MD, president of West Reading Radiology Associates in Reading, Pa. "The fact that you are moving in the right direction is what really counts."
When it comes to talking to patients, Wagner advises radiologists to look for opportunities for interaction and then strive to get the most out of each exchange. "If we interact with just two or three patients a day, there's no reason we can't bring an emotional energy and investment to each of those interactions," he says.
For example, Wagner takes the opportunity to meet with the parents of children who have had normal ultrasound exams, patients who've undergone biopsies, and those asking to speak with a radiologist.
Empathy for patients maneuvering through the health care system prompted Jennifer L. Kemp, MD, chair of RSNA's Patient-Centered Radiology Steering Committee, and her colleagues to develop communication tools for their patients at Rose Medical Center in Denver, where she serves as chair of the radiology department. Those resources include patient education videos, a follow-up post card, and thank-you letters that solicit feedback.
"I wanted to include information on radiologist training in these pieces because I think even my friends and family don't have a clue as to what I do," says Kemp, also a private practice radiologist with Diversified Radiology, a Denver-based radiology group. "In our current health care environment, people need to know the value we offer.
The postcard they give to patients directly addresses the invisibility issue and emphasizes quality: "While you might not have seen us, we know you are here; we know your physicians and what they are looking for. We work hard to assure that you are having the best and safest test to address your symptoms."
To improve accessibility to referring physicians, Kemp and colleagues list their direct phone number at the bottom of reports — a change she says has had a profound effect on both physician relationships and her work life.
"Referring physicians call more often now," she says. "They want to talk about appropriate follow up or ask for a second opinion. As a result, I find my work much more rewarding; I feel more connected with the patients. And it helps me to be a better radiologist."
Despite the interruptions, Kemp says the volume of exams read by the six radiologists at her hospital is among the highest in her 50-radiologist group. "I'd rather be part of a team caring for patients than just someone turning out a report," she says. "I strongly believe that I'm building a trust among reffering physicians and patients because they know their exams are being read by a radiologist who cares."
By Mary Henderson
Mary Henderson is a freelance writer.