Most patients want to receive imaging results directly from the doctor who sent them for scans, but many also want to see their radiology reports, a survey finds. 

"These days, patients like to have access to the medical information that informs their care, and the radiology report is a crucial piece of information," said study author Dr. David Naeger, co-director of the Henry I. Goldberg Center for Advanced Imaging Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

Naeger and colleagues surveyed nearly 2,500 adults undergoing computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at two hospitals over a four-week period. A total of 617 surveys were completed, for a response rate of 25 percent.

The study included more women than men. The average respondent was about 52 years old. Most were white. More than half had at least a college education, and 27 percent had a master's or doctorate degree.

Almost two-thirds of participants said they preferred to receive their scan results from the physicians who sent them for the test, which is currently standard practice at many medical practices, the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

About one-third said they would prefer direct communication with the radiologist either in person or by phone. Among these individuals, calling was slightly more preferable, the top choice for 56 percent of them.

If patients had to choose between hearing results from an expert they already know or from an expert in reading scans who they never met, 82 percent preferred to go with the familiar face.

Only 36 percent of patients expressed no interest in receiving their radiology reports, saying they'd be satisfied just with communication from their doctors.

Many participants didn't know exactly what a radiologist does. Although 79 percent knew that radiologists interpreted imaging studies, nearly half didn't know that radiologists are doctors. And only one-third knew that radiologists could do biopsies and minimally invasive procedures.

One limitation of the study is that it didn't make a distinction between patient preferences for normal versus abnormal imaging results, the researchers note. For abnormal results, it's possible that patients may have a stronger preference for interacting with a familiar provider, rather than a radiologist they don't know, the researchers said.

It's also possible that patients who want to see the reports won't understand them, Naeger said by email. These reports are intended for communication between physicians and, rather than offering a simple message about treatment options, contain complex medical jargon that would leave many patients scratching their heads, he said.

Some places do prepare two versions of radiology reports - one for physicians and one for patients, Naeger noted.

"These 'dual reports' can really help patients understand that a trained physician is reading their imaging and is available to help them understand what the test showed," Naeger said. "Even if the report were completely understandable, though, the next step in the patient's care is not part of the radiology report, so patients would still need to contact their physicians to learn what should happen next."

It's not surprising that patients want to see the reports, said Dr. Ruth Carlos, a professor in radiology at the University of Michigan who wasn't involved in the current study.

"Today's patients can be extremely sophisticated and educated consumers of care with 24/7 access to information through a variety of channels," Carlos said by email. "The desire to see their full report fits with this desire for information."

Still, Carlos agreed that there's a limit to what patients can understand without speaking to a doctor about the results.

"Review of any medical reports, including radiology reports, is most useful when done with a provider who can provide that context as well as talk through the most reasonable next steps."