Medical Scan Risks Not Being Relayed To Patients: Study

Less than half of patients receiving medical scans involving radiation are aware that the procedure may pose health risks, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published earlier this month in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, researchers found overall one-third of patients did not have a full understanding of testing procedures they were about to undergo and were especially unaware of the radiation risks involved.

Nearly 200 surveys were given to patients awaiting CT scans, ultrasounds and nuclear medicine examinations. Questions focused on the knowledge of various aspects of the examination, the examination experience, and satisfaction and preferences regarding communication.

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Only half of patients receiving intravenous contrast dye correctly indicated they understood what procedure they were about to undergo, while 70% of patients receiving oral contrast were able to identify the procedure.

A total of 97% and 98% of patients, respectively, correctly identified the type of examination they would undergo and what body party was being imaged. Nearly 80% of patients said the ordering doctor explained the examination before the procedure, yet only 72% of those people indicated they were satisfied with the explanation the doctor gave.

About 20% of patients surveyed still had unanswered questions about the examination. Most commonly, those questions included information regarding examination logistics, contrast-agent usage, and when results would be available.

A study published earlier this year revealed many cancer patients are also not receiving enough information about the potential risks associated with CT scans and other examinations involving radiation. The study concluded many doctors do not initiate a conversation about the risks of radiation from imaging tests.

In the recent study, just more than half of patients were interested in discussing the examination with a radiologist before the procedure. Another 20% revealed they consulted the internet for information about the examination instead of their doctor, and another 20% indicated they consulted friends or family members about the procedures.

Andrew B. Rosenkrantz, lead researcher, concluded the level of understanding concerning the examinations was the greatest for patients undergoing CT scans, while patients undergoing examinations involving nuclear medicine had the least understanding.

A patient’s understanding was especially low if they had not previously undergone the examination in question.

“Patients’ knowledge of their imaging examinations is frequently incomplete,” said Rosenkrantz. “The findings may motivate initiatives to improve patients’ understanding of their imaging examinations, enhancing patient empowerment and contributing to patient-centered care.”


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