Online portals could help educate patients on medical images

Online portals could help educate patients on medical images

by Carol Ko, Staff Writer | November 07, 2013
Sharing radiology images with patients using CDs may one day become a thing of the past with the advent of new online patient portals that give patients access to high quality information about their health.

In a new study released in the November issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles created a Java-based web application and presented it to patients with brain cancer.

The electronic portal was designed to present the patient's imaging findings in a way that made it easier to interpret, positioning the information against patient-friendly explanations of imaging techniques and diseases.

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Overall, the study processed 2,883 brain MRI reports from 277 patients, and retrieved data was fed into image and natural language processing (NLP) modules. The resulting analyses were stored in a database on the portal server.

Presenting patient findings amid such interpretive cues and explanations can go a long way in helping patients understand radiology test results, which are notoriously difficult to decipher without the aid of a professional.

"Even though radiology test results are one of the most difficult portions of the clinical record for lay people to understand, they are one of the most frequently accessed pieces of information via patient portals, when available," said Corey W. Arnold, assistant professor of radiology at University of California, Los Angeles.

Internet sharing

From a patient's standpoint, it may seem like medicine lags far behind other industries when it comes to utilizing the Internet. After all, people now go online to access their bank accounts and buy groceries — why can't X-rays be just as accessible?

But it's not just as easy as putting your MRI scan on instagram.HIPPA compliance regulations concerning sensitive patient information put unique challenges around patient data sharing that other industries don't face.

Nevertheless, efforts are underway to bridge this technology disparity. A pilot project by RSNA funded by the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering provides a network that links to PACS and RIS systems at any hospital, enabling radiologists to share medical images with patients.

The network ultimately aims to help patients have greater control of their medical images and reports — an endeavor that's heartily endorsed by the patients themselves. An overwhelming majority of patients want to have Internet access to their medical images, according to a survey conducted by IDR Medical, an international health care marketing company.

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