If I remember correctly, it was cool, clear and crisp on that September day in 2012 when I walked into my office. September is my month; I love this weather. My recollection of early morning sunshine coming through the window may now be biased by the events that transpired. It was early, 6:30 or 7, in the morning. I immediately noticed a rather generous basket of individually wrapped Lifesavers candies on my chair. My first thought was that the team had realized my birthday was just a few days away. An envelope was tucked between the candies. This letter was enclosed in the envelope:
Dear Dr. Channin,
A few months back you read a chest x-ray on a patient named XXX. In the report you recommended that he have a CT scan to determine if something you saw in the area of the right lower lobe was something to be concerned about. We would like to thank you for that recommendation. The recommendation that you made led to the finding of a cancerous mass in its early stages. XXX underwent surgery on XXX to remove the lesion and the lower lobe of his right lung, and the preliminary testing shows no sign of metastasis. As far as we are concerned it was your recommendation that saved his life and made sure that we will have our husband, father and grandfather far into the future. We wanted to send you a thank you and let you know that in our minds you are a life saver.
There is nothing that washes away the cares and woes of the day better than a letter like this. I will tell you that you walk a little taller and you whistle a fine tune. For all the talk of radiologists getting out of the reading room to 'meet and greet' the patient, 'make rounds', etc. to make sure of our piece of the pie, there should be an equal amount of talk about hunkering down in the reading room, and doing what we do best for each and every patient. At many institutions, including ours, patients see the radiology reports shortly after the referring providers. We touch every patient, the shadow of whom we see, with the words we put in our reports. Let us not forget this in the day and age of structured reports (RSNA Reporting Initiative) and computer assisted coding and billing. That extra bit of explanation or detail, especially in your recommendations can make all the difference. Reports can be both machine and human readable. Focus on the whistle not the pie.