Rationale and objectives: The authors studied radiologists' patterns of using old reports and previous radiographs in the interpretation of current radiographic studies. Supplying information from previous studies is considered necessary for accurate interpretation; however, it is not clear how this information is used.
Methods: Eighteen radiologists interpreted 305 plain-film studies in a general radiologic interpretation area. Radiologists described their perceptions of the use of previous radiographs and reports in film interpretation.
Results: Overall, old films were used for 99% of interpretations and previous reports were used for 65%. Prior information increased confidence in 89% of cases, influenced diagnosis in 56% of cases, and assisted in detecting new pathology in 6% of interpretations. Old radiographs were judged most valuable in documenting the progression, regression, or stability of disease in 89% of cases. Previous reports were principally used to obtain patient history (43%). In no cases did the radiologist perceive that the old reports assisted in locating new pathology.
Conclusions: Old films are judged more valuable than reports for documenting disease progress, and radiologists are unlikely to accept written reports as a substitute. Previous reports are used principally to improve clinical histories, a function that might be eliminated if adequate clinical data could be captured by other means.