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Radiology. 2016 Nov;281(2):567-573. Epub 2016 May 17.

"Chasing a Ghost": Factors that Influence Primary Care Physicians to Follow Up on Incidental Imaging Findings.

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From the Department of Radiology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 3400 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (H.M.Z.); Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (H.M.Z.) and Center for Public Health Initiatives, School of Social Policy and Practice (R.F.), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa; Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Md (E.K.B.); and Departments of Radiology and Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif (C.P.L.).


Purpose To explore provider and patient characteristics that influence how primary care providers (PCPs) communicate and manage incidental imaging findings. Materials and Methods This HIPAA-compliant study was approved by the institutional review board. Through semistructured interviews, researchers explored concerns and perspectives of 30 PCPs on receiving and acting on incidental imaging findings. Open-ended questions were designed to elicit a range of responses rather than quantifiable data. Thematic codes were developed and explicitly defined. Three research assistants independently coded all 30 deidentified transcripts and resolved discrepancies (κ = 0.85). Codes pertaining to PCP and patient characteristics were organized into an explanatory model. Results Some PCPs felt compelled but frustrated to pursue costly follow-up for incidental imaging findings of limited clinical importance. Other PCPs did not act on findings that were unfamiliar or occurred in an unusual clinical context when follow-up recommendations were not given; the challenges of researching the clinical importance of these findings or seeking specialist consultation led to inaction. Some PCPs reported using a uniform approach to communicate and manage incidental findings, while others adapted their approach to the patient and the finding. Sometimes PCP characteristics such as follow-up style superseded patient characteristics. At other times patient characteristics such as health literacy superseded PCP characteristics. Conclusion PCPs cited a variety of objective and subjective factors that influence how they communicate and manage incidental imaging findings. These results suggest that some patients may receive inappropriate follow-up of incidental imaging findings and present an opportunity for radiologists to help PCPs and patients to best use the information conveyed in imaging reports. © RSNA, 2016 Online supplemental material is available for this article.

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