The battleground of today’s business world revolves around the customer experience. Whether you are selling cars, cheeseburgers, or radiological services, the 21st century customer demands to be treated with respect and warmth. Accordingly, in nearly all industries, the customer experience is gaining sharpened attention. Specifically, customers demand information transparency and this trend is only growing, especially for millennial consumers. Most customers understand that information is power and that knowledge drives effective decision making. People can access their financial data in two clicks and a swipe on their smartphones. Similarly, most companies are becoming transparent and providing patients access to their information anytime and anywhere.
Why, then, do patients still find difficulty accessing their medical information?
Currently, most doctors provide a patient with a CD, at best. However, most new computers lack ports to load these ancient discs. In addition, in an interview with Dr. Raphael Calmon, the Brazil-based radiologist revealed that his millennial patients have a yearning for electronic medical information access. This suggests that this is a global trend. Indeed, as these millennials begin to age, this appetite for electronic access will further saturate the global market.
Several studies confirm the trend of patients demanding expanded access to their medical images. When accounting for chronic disease management or an acute episode that requires numerous opinions, patient image accessibility transcends from a want to a need. Consequently, a patient faces a hurdle in trying to be an active participant in their own health. This issue is particularly harmful since studies suggest that being proactive in one’s health journey improves outcomes.
Moreover, the doctor-patient relationship is delicate and dynamic. Patients have begun to request a deeper relationship with the physician who interprets their medical images, in addition to the referring physician. Patients with a strong relationship with their physicians have been shown to experience improved compliance to their treatment plans, and consequently, improved outcomes. Without easy access to their medical images, it is difficult for a patient to remain fully engaged with their health, negatively affecting the likelihood that a patient adheres to a regimen. As a result, there is a growing demand for radiologists to leverage information technologies in their relationships with patients, ultimately improving their patients’ health outcomes.
The resistant physician may counter the trend for increased patient access with the reply that increased access to data may lead to unfounded anxiety. Patients might overinterpret what they see and stress over irrelevant medical information that they don't fully understand. This “ignorance is bliss” argument fails to wholly consider its implications. To withhold one’s rights based on one’s capacity is authoritarian thinking. In a democracy, we do not restrict the access to vote if someone is uninformed. So why should physicians restrict patient access to their medical images? Instead, a physician would benefit from educating their patients by providing access to their images, explaining their health situation using this visual aid and laying out the most appropriate treatment plan.
Other physicians have described that they do not want to provide patients direct access to medical images since these images may provide the patient more ammunition in malpractice suits. However, this defensive thinking appraises the physician’s legal safety over a patient’s health. This ideology runs counter to the role of the physician: to prioritize the best interests of the patients.
It is common knowledge, that customers of any sort will return to/provide referrals for businesses that best meet and exceed their expectations. Therefore, the transparent, information-providing practice would experience improved consumer loyalty, elevated referrals, and burgeoning revenue. On the other hand, if a practice fails to meet this trend, the practice will experience falling patient retention, a dampened reputation, and depressed revenues.
The wave of information democratization is here. Will you drown in the competition or ride the wave?