Communicating Examination Results to Patients

Communicating Examination Results to Patients

ultrasound lab tech with patientIt’s a common belief that patients have the ultimate right to decide what path their healthcare is going to take. Healthcare providers agree that patients need to know all their options and will ultimately make the final decision. The assumption is that patients will make their choice based on the results of their diagnostic examinations. However, what is more difficult to agree on is who will inform the patient of those results. In the U.S., sonographers don’t have the authority to provide results to patients; those conversations must come from the interpreting radiologist or the physician. The question of whether sonographers should inform patients is the subject of ongoing debate. Here are some approaches as to how a sonographer might deal with communicating examination results to patients in those countries where it is permitted.

Do Not Tell Them

This is an approach in which the sonographer never divulges results, no matter what. They leave that task to the physician or radiologist. Patients have no relationship with the sonographer, and any information coming from a stranger might be awkward or hard to hear. The patient will be more comfortable speaking with their doctor. The only drawback with this approach is that the AMA code of ethics says that patients have a right to know.

Only Tell If Asked

Sonographers will only tell the patient their results if they ask to hear them. This approach will relieve some of the anxiety that the patient might feel in waiting to know their diagnosis. No one knows better than the sonographer what the images mean and what they reveal—not even the doctor. While a sonographer can’t grant every patient request, in some cases, it does help in easing stress and building relationships.

Ask to Tell

Some patients may not know that they can have the results of the exam immediately. Older patients or non-English-speaking patients just assume that they must speak with their doctor to know the diagnosis. Sonographers can inform the patient that they can ask to know the results and let them decide if they want to.

Always Tell

If all patients receive their results immediately after the exam, that eliminates communication failures. It could reduce the rate of error in the communication of the results as well. Doctors spend less and less time with their patients. Many use nurse practitioners as surrogates to pass information and provide other services. Allowing sonographers to communicate examination results to patients instead of making them wait for another medical professional removes the unnecessary steps.

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