It’s the patient, radiology

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 - Dave Pearson
Dave Pearson

Some years back, already plenty old enough that I should have known better, I injured my right thumb playing pickup football. It hurt like a sonofagun, but I thought the pain had more to do with the detached thumbnail than the bone. The next morning the pain was still nasty enough that I went to a walk-in clinic in search of relief. The lone doctor there treated the nail and x-rayed the thumb.

Then he did something that made me chuckle at the time and bristle later. He put the film on the light box, admitted his uncertainty and asked me, the patient, if I saw anything.

“Doctor, I’m not a radiologist,” I recall stating flatly as I stared into the image. “I barely know what I’m looking at, much less what to look for.”

He sent me home, telling me to come back if the pain kept getting worse. Two days and too many handfuls of Advil later, the phone rang. It was a nurse at the walk-in. “Mr. Pearson, the first metacarpal on your right hand is fractured,” she said. “You need to get that casted as soon as possible.”

I didn’t know whom to blame for those two full days of needless risk and pain, the dummy doc at the clinic or the radiologist—wherever in the world he or she was—who didn’t get around to looking at my diagnostic image until he or she was good and ready.

Some health “care,” huh?

In truth, at the time I felt a bit irritated but really more bemused than angry. I didn’t make a stink with anyone over anything. I wore the cast a few weeks and everything healed just fine. But today I’m thinking about that episode because I’ve been hearing so much about patient-centered radiology.

From RSNA’s Radiology Cares campaign to ACR/RSNA’s RadiologyInfo.org to Strategic Radiology’s “ My Radiologist,” the profession is clearly stepping up its game in the patient-experience arena.

Meanwhile, it’s been in the news recently that patients want and expect more information about radiation and care more about quality than charm.

I don’t know that, right now, some radiologists somewhere aren’t taking their own sweet time or otherwise showing little regard for patients or referrers. But I think it’s safe to surmise that very few are doing so routinely anymore. The new “business as usual” is patient-centered care—or you’ll soon have no business at all.  

Fortunately, this is also a time of good press for radiology. Two unbroken thumbs up to that.