Any patient preparing for an imaging exam, whether for him- or herself or a family member, is likely to have lots of questions: Is it safe for my child to have X-rays? What are contrast materials and how do they work? Which imaging studies use anesthesia?
For answers to these and many other questions, a growing number of patients are turning to RadiologyInfo.org, the joint RSNA-ACR (American College of Radiology) public information website launched in 2000 as a radiology information resource for patients and a patient-communication tool for referring physicians to guide their patients. A highly accurate and trusted healthcare website, RadiologyInfo.org drew approximately 8.5 million users in 2011—an increase of nearly 1 million visitors from 2010. The site attracts approximately 712,000 visitors
Members of the RSNA-ACR Public Information Website Committee that oversees RadiologyInfo.org attribute its success to one basic tenet: content must be viewed through the eyes of the patient, which means keeping information simple, straightforward and to the point.
"When you take a step back and consider what makes a public information website successful, there are three main ingredients," said James Donaldson, M.D., chair of the Department of Medical Imaging at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, professor of radiology at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and RSNA co-chair of RadiologyInfo.org. "The content has to be relevant, you have to know how to reach the user and you have to convey the information in a way they will understand."
This first-of-its-kind information portal specifically for radiology has delivered on all three counts and built a substantial library of resources, including mobile and social media platforms. Its Spanish version and mobile sites drew 2.2 million visitors in 2011—a 33 percent increase from 2010.
RadiologyInfo.org now offers 127 procedure descriptions, and committee members created 55 videos among a wide array of other multimedia content. Committee members attest to the hard work and collaboration required to develop those resources from the ground up.
"We started at square one in terms of content in 2000," said Christoph Wald, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice-chair of the Department of Radiology at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts, associate professor of radiology at Tufts University Medical School in Boston and ACR co-chair of RadiologyInfo.org. "Not only did the committee have an enormous task just to catch up, we had to stay in lock step with new developments. In the last 2-3 years we have reached a point where the content is so comprehensive that we just have a few remaining gaps to fill."
Committee members with expertise in many different radiology subspecialties select the content that is developed and then vetted by radiology experts from ACR, RSNA and other professional radiology organizations. "We also ask committee members to review and update the content every year," Dr. Wald said. "Their input and patient feedback help us to continuously refine the material."
One new feature came through the realization that patients seeking radiology information also have "big picture" questions that extend beyond imaging. To address those questions and help put imaging in the proper context, the site has begun listing disease and condition descriptions, the diagnostic tests used to evaluate them and the radiologic procedures for treating them.
"Patients may not think about imaging by the type of exam or modality but by symptom or disease," Dr. Donaldson said. "Soon a patient can go to the disease page, type in appendicitis, and get a brief, simple description of how imaging is used in evaluating that disease." Terms within the disease descriptions, such as gallbladder, for example, link to a glossary of medical terms explained in easy-to-understand language offering patients further clarification—one example of the comprehensive network of cross-linking within the site.
To address patient concerns about radiation, the committee continues to enhance the site's Patient Safety section that includes information and videos on radiation exposure in X-ray and CT examinations and other topics. That section also serves as the patient-facing portion of the Image Wisely campaign sponsored by radiology associations including RSNA and ACR, to promote imaging safety for adults. Through shared human resources, RadiologyInfo.org and Image Wisely have been very effective in placing patient-directed information where it belongs while avoiding duplication, or worse, contradiction across separately created resources, said Dr. Wald, a member of the Image Wisely Steering Committee.
To assist parents with questions about their child's examination, RadiologyInfo.org recently bolstered its pediatric-specific content—indicated by teddy bear icons throughout—and added links to the Image Gently campaign whose website promotes radiation safety practices in children.
Creating an image-rich site is an ongoing goal of committee members who continually add videos, pictures, anatomical drawings, podcasts and more. "We realize that one site doesn't fit everybody and that some people like to read and some would rather watch videos," Dr. Donaldson said. "We're trying to fill as many niches as we can."
The committee is tapping new resources including images and illustrations from the RSNA journals RadioGraphics and Radiology and the website CTisus.com, operated by one of the committee's vice co-chairs, Elliot K. Fishman, M.D., who will replace Dr. Donaldson as co-chair in 2013. "Dr. Fishman has many illustrations on his website and he's been gracious enough to let us use this as a resource," Dr. Donaldson said.
While the site benefits from a highly effective search engine optimization strategy that consistently returns RadiologyInfo.org at the top of millions of Google hits on radiology keyword searches, getting patients to the site itself means staying on top of continually evolving communication methods, committee members said.
"We have to match patients' communication habits," Dr. Donaldson said. "The website has branched out with Twitter and Facebook and users can subscribe to SMS and e-mail updates or RSS feeds and visit the mobile-optimized version of RadiologyInfo.org from their cell phones.
We are constantly trying to optimize content." (See sidebar)
Judging by visitor feedback, patients are happy with what they find on the website and the committee will continue to add more resources in 2013, Dr. Wald said. "The feedback is very positive," he said. "Most people love the site and are able to find what they need."
The website continues to earn other accolades. Along with numerous past awards, RadiologyInfo.org received the 2011 Health Improvement Institute's Aesculapius Award of Excellence and a certificate from the Web Health Awards, an awards program organized by the Health Information Resource Center.
Calling it a "great success story," both doctors attribute much of the website's success to the high level of collaboration between the two societies. "This has been a highly successful, cooperative venture between RSNA and ACR," Dr. Donaldson said. "We pool our resources and we are both dedicated to making RadiologyInfo.org the best website it can be for patients."
Videos on topics including MR Cholangiopancreatography, Children and Radiation Safety, Carotid Ultrasound, CT of the Kidneys and many others are now available on RadiologyInfo.org as part of the "Your Radiologist Explains" series.
The video presentations feature PowerPoint slides with images and narration and are intended to help explain various radiology tests and treatments to patients. To access the videos, go to RadiologyInfo.org/vids.
Physicians can download RadiologyInfo.org promotional posters, business cards and printable PDF versions of the various radiology procedures as handouts for patients.
RadiologyInfo.org is featured as an important patient communication tool in patient-centered radiology courses presented to radiologists at RSNA 2012. Stop by RSNA Services to get a demonstration of RadiologyInfo.org from RSNA staff members. While you're there, enter the drawing—you could win a Kindle Fire!
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