What to expect when you come to radiology for a test or procedure

A Novant Health nursing supervisor discusses the care and comfort her team offers

Few of us look forward to doctor’s appointments, and fewer still look forward to diagnostic tests at a doctor’s office. 

Bethany Brant, radiology nursing supervisor at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, understands. She and her team – which includes clinicians from Mecklenburg Radiology Associates (MRA) – do everything possible to ensure patients know what to expect before their visit and are comfortable for the duration. “We want everyone to be set up for success,” she said.

Patients might meet Brant or one of her teammates if they need an angiogram, embolization, biopsy, MRI, or other scans. But they’ll have a phone call with a nurse before their visit, so they know how to plan and what to expect. Brant and her team know people have questions – including ones they’re reluctant to ask. The nursing staff tries to anticipate those and bring them up themselves. 

Nurses play a critical role in diagnostic radiology. “We’re there whenever there’s a need for pharmacological comfort measures, clinical assessment, or managing critical care patients,” she explained. 

Those comfort measures might include administering conscious, or “twilight,” sedation. 

The things patients need to know and do vary according to the procedure or test they’re having. But in general, there are things all patients can do to help ensure all goes smoothly. 

  • Arrive on time—or even a little early. “This gives us ample opportunity to educate, answer questions, and draw labs if needed,” Brant said. 
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. You want to be comfortable while waiting and will appreciate having easy street clothes to change back into after your procedure. Also, after your procedure you may have a dressing or external catheters or drains that may require more room to prevent any tugging or friction at the site. 
  • Bring what makes you comfortable, including a blanket and pillow. Pack something – a book or Kindle, laptop, phone, and even headphones to listen to podcasts, for example – to occupy your time during recovery.  
  • Consider bringing snacks if you’ll need extended recovery time. (Recovery for one of the more involved procedures – femoral or radial artery access; part of an angiogram – could be as long as six hours.) Ask a nurse if you’ll be allowed to eat and drink immediately after; there may be some restrictions. “People are welcome to bring snacks,” Brant said. “But we have them here, too – pudding, jello, crackers, granola bars, juice and sodas. We also have a cafeteria and a coffee kiosk.” 
  • Line up your driver/support person. Many procedures require sedation. You won’t be able to drive yourself home, so a family member or friend will need to be on hand. Brant said, “We’ll tell the support person: “Please go home, go shopping, do whatever you have to do; just keep your phone on so we can call you when we’re done.” For more involved procedures, Brant recommends patients have a support person waiting at home. “Having an extra set of hands to bring in groceries or let the dog out, for example, just for a couple of hours is a huge help toward a successful recovery,” she said.

Brant sees kids in her department every day. Her team is prepared to help them have a good experience. “A child life specialist will be bedside with age-appropriate distractions and encouragement,” she said.

If a child is scheduled for an awake MRI, they will have the option to watch a movie or listen to music with the option to have a caregiver present during the scan as well.

Some people – especially those prone to feeling claustrophobic – get nervous about MRIs. A provider can prescribe something for anxiety, which may be enough. But if a patient needs anesthesia, the team is prepared.  

The length of time an MRI lasts varies, but it can be up to two and a half hours.

Brant recalls a patient – a young woman who’d just learned she carried the breast cancer gene – who needed an MRI. “When she came to our department, she was in tears,” she said. “We were about the same age, and I came over, sat on her bed and told her: ‘I’m going to get you through this.’ I held her hand for the entire scan.” 

That MRI took a couple of hours. “It was worth every second,” Brant said.

No matter what procedure you’re having – simple or complex – your comfort is always top of mind.