Image maker makeover
Increasing patients' access to medical imaging will also raise the profiles of radiologists—many of whom now have little, if any, contact with patients.
Mendelson acknowledges that some radiologists probably got into the subspecialty specifically to avoid patient interaction. That will have to change, he says, "and I believe that change may be a good thing.
"This will raise awareness of the profession to the general patient community," Mendelson says. "One of the pushes of our professional societies over the last few years is to let the patients know who we are. A lot of patients are not fully aware of who radiologists are or that we are even physicians. This is a way of raising awareness."
That higher profile will also carry some new responsibilities, Mendelson says, including "making yourself available and spending time that you don't spend today more directly encountering the patients. But perhaps in the big picture, that is a good thing."
Eytan says that more direct contact with patients will make radiologists better physicians.
"Radiology is a service profession. In this new era, they may not yet realize how valuable their service will be to the actual patient," Eytan says. "In the past they were serving other doctors, but I think they understand quite well what the future is."
Eytan compares increasing patient access to imaging to that of opening laboratory records to patient review. Similar concerns were raised at the time, but that access is now part of standard operating procedure at most healthcare systems and has cast a new appreciation from patients on the value of pathology and other lab services. He says medical imaging will see the same growth in stature from patients.
"I would tell radiologists that this is going to help the people you serve understand just how much you contribute to their care. It's going to make you look great," he says. "And the second thing is, if you never do it, you'll never know how much better your care can be because you'll keep talking in this arcane language, things will keep falling through the cracks, and you won't learn how to be a better radiologist."
Mendelson says that the increased visibility of radiologists carries "a lot of positive ramifications" that could help the profession in its pitched battles against reimbursement cuts from the federal government.
"There is the generic good will between patients and physicians," he says. "Secondarily, patients might become more appreciative of their radiologists and assertive toward their politicians to make sure that radiologists are treated reasonably."