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Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2013 Nov;471(11):3637-44. doi: 10.1007/s11999-013-3100-x. Epub 2013 Jun 13.

Does rewording MRI reports improve patient understanding and emotional response to a clinical report?

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Orthopaedic Hand and Upper Extremity Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.



Diagnostic MRI reports can be distressing for patients with limited health literacy. Humans tend to prepare for the worst particularly when we are in pain, and words like "tear" can make us feel damaged and in need of repair. Research on words used in provider-patient interactions have shown an affect on response to treatment and coping strategies, but the literature on this remains relatively sparse.


The aim of this observational cross-sectional study is to determine whether rewording of MRI reports in understandable, more dispassionate language will result in better patient ratings of emotional response, satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding. Furthermore, we wanted to find out which type of report patients would choose to receive.


One hundred patients visiting an orthopaedic hand and upper extremity outpatient office for reasons unrelated to the presented MRI report were enrolled. Four MRI reports, concerning upper extremity conditions, were reworded to an eighth-grade reading level and with the use of neutral descriptive words and the most optimistic interpretations based on current best evidence. After reading each report, emotional response was measured using the Self Assessment Manikin (SAM). Subjects also completed questions about satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding of the report.


According to the results of the SAM questionnaire, the reworded MRI reports resulted in significantly higher pleasure and dominance scores and lower arousal scores. The mean satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding scores of the reworded report were significantly higher compared with the original reports. Seventy percent of the patients preferred the reworded reports over the original reports.


Emotional response, satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding were all superior in MRI reports reworded for lower reading level and optimal emotional content and optimism. Given that patients increasingly have access to their medical records and diagnostic reports, attention to health literacy and psychologic aspects of the report may help optimize health and patient satisfaction.

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