Radiology reports: how much descriptive detail is enough?

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1995 Oct;165(4):803-6. doi: 10.2214/ajr.165.4.7676970.


Objective: The purpose of our study was to determine whether physicians prefer radiology reports with no description, a brief description, or a detailed description of the radiologic findings. We also examined the effects of various clinical circumstances and physician characteristics (e.g., specialty and number of years in practice) on these preferences. This study, which is limited to commonly encountered scenarios, is concerned solely with the description of imaging findings and not with other aspects of the reports, such as the diagnosis and technique.

Materials and methods: A questionnaire was sent to the 100 physicians who most frequently refer patients to our practice for chest radiographs and abdominal sonograms. The questionnaire outlined six clinical scenarios. For each scenario the physician was asked to indicate the preferred radiology report from a set of three reports varying in descriptive detail.

Results: Seventy-seven physicians replied. For a normal chest radiograph in a patient without specific chest symptoms, the most popular report format indicated simply that the examination was normal. When there were clinical findings involving the chest or abnormal radiologic findings, the majority of referring physicians desired a description of the findings and the radiologic diagnosis. For abdominal sonograms the majority of physicians favored reports detailing the findings, even when the findings were normal. In all instances the preferences expressed were independent of the academic status, number of years in practice, number of reports read per day, and specialty of the referring physician.

Conclusion: Our results show that preferences of referring physicians for the extent of description of imaging findings included in radiology reports depend on the clinical circumstances. In the specific clinical scenarios examined, physicians preferred that the report include a brief description of the findings, except for screening chest radiographs, for which "normal examination" was an acceptable report. The referring physicians' preferences regarding the amount of descriptive detail included in the report were independent of their specialty, academic status, and experience.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Medical Records*
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Radiology*
  • Ultrasonography