As healthcare moves beyond its traditional brick-and-mortar blueprint to offer telehealth and telemedicine virtual solutions for patients, radiology is increasingly decentralized, with teleradiology evolving to be a standard of care for everyday image reading. Ranked as the largest growing healthcare outsourcing sector, with 90% of providers considering outsourcing via teleradiology in 2019, teleradiology is far more than just a convenient fix for occasional remote readings. Teleradiology plays an important role in the over all healthcare ecosystem. It helps to solve several challenges for healthcare providers around 24/7 availability of radiologist expertise, staff burnout, modernizing workflows and the need for faster turnaround time on image readings.
Teleradiology also has a lot to offer the radiologist. Today’s radiologists are asked to work more efficiently against the rising pressure of increased imaging volume, growing complexity of cases and resource shortages. On top of this, the radiologist’s role has evolved to be about much more than their expertise in image reading – their days are fraught with distractions and inefficiencies, from tracking down the right referring physician to filling in missing patient information, to phone interruptions, to mounting administrative work – ultimately pulling them away from a job that only they have the expertise to do. Teleradiology can help alleviate these mounting pressures and keep radiologists laser-focused on their unique skills.
Increasing Efficiency and Automation with AI
One of the critical benefits is the off-site support that teleradiology offers to improve overall hospital efficiency while addressing a growing shortage of radiologists. Teleradiologists can handle a vast array of images from greater geographic regions compared to those located at single-site hospitals. With the need for both emergent and non-emergent specialty coverage 24/7/365, hospitals can use time zones to their advantage instead of relying on a solo on-call generalist during off hours. With teleradiology solutions that eliminate unnecessary administrative distractions, radiologists can focus more on the image interpretation itself. This enables them to take on more image reads and consistently interpret them in a shorter time with quality results, improving overall productivity and turnaround time for healthcare providers. When combined with artificial intelligence (AI), teleradiology further accelerates productivity, enhances accuracy, and reduces costs through workflow improvements.
The rise of AI signals our industry’s transition from a focus on siloed solutions to integrated platforms that supports a radiologist’s existing workflow. As a key driver behind teleradiology, AI helps augment the radiologist’s capabilities and improve connectivity, while reducing human error through enhanced imaging assessment. AI can automate a variety of teleradiologists’ functions – from case acquisition, to identifying critical findings, to reporting. Many radiologists still access their case load via a master work list that is accessible to everyone, allowing for cherry-picking or resulting in priority cases getting buried under less critical patients. Some teleradiology solutions can triage cases to ensure that more critical cases are prioritized first, and automatically distribute cases, with AI pairing specific cases with certain radiologists, dependent on subspecialty or typical turnaround time. Using AI, health systems can also recognize a radiologist’s availability, and re-route a case to the next expert in the queue if needed.
Improving the Radiologist Experience
With nearly half of radiologists in the U.S. experiencing feelings of burnout, the flexibility and personalization teleradiology offers helps to improve radiologist satisfaction and workload management. Teleradiology allows radiologists to define their own schedules and work from locations that are best for them, whether it’s from an office, at home or traveling. Some platforms are equipped with mobile schedulers, so radiologists can adjust their shifts via their smartphones or assess any requests for additional help and sign up for more hours.
With personalized teleradiology workstations tailored to their individual preferences or skills, radiologists can use devices that are best suited for their work style, such as hands-free dictation or foot pedals. Advanced teleradiology platforms also offer support to manage logistical duties, from relaying findings to clinical MDs, screening calls, or resolving issues such as missing reformations or clinical history. By combining efficiency, data analytics and AI, teleradiology allows radiologists to focus on making a confident diagnosis and less on technical processes while improving imaging interpretation. This enables radiologists to practice at the top of their license instead of being bogged down by administrative needs, increasing overall satisfaction and productivity.
Optimizing Radiology Department Operations for the Future
Beyond teleradiology’s ability to improve the radiologist’s experience, it also helps streamline operations within the radiology department. Teleradiology services are well integrated with on-site imaging staff so there is no difference in workflow at change of shift. With fewer secondary or delayed scans, radiology administrators have more time to focus on other areas, such as maintaining quality or reducing cost-per-diagnosis. In addition, teleradiology platforms can also offer more robust disaster-proof reliability as well as advanced viewing and reporting capabilities.
Ultimately, teleradiology will help standardize the quality and access to care for patients while providing a strong platform for future growth in telehealth, telemedicine and precision diagnosisfor health providers. By improving and expediting radiology as a service, we can also solve many of the challenges of today’s radiologist as well to improve and personalize their experience for the future.
Dr. Bub, a Denver, CO native, majored in English Literature at Harvard University and later attended medical school at the University of Colorado. He completed his residency and neuroradiology fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Prior to founding Direct Radiology, he spent six years in private practice and teleradiology, serving on the Internal Review Board for Quality Assurance and as Medical Director at Nighthawk Radiology Services.
Dr. Henneberry is a native of Spokane, WA. He graduated with honors in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University. He received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, and completed radiology residency at the University of Colorado. Prior to founding Direct Radiology, he worked for Nighthawk Radiology Services from the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, serving on the Internal Review Board for Quality Assurance. Dr. Henneberry is a Managing Partner and Principal of Direct Radiology. He holds American Board of Radiology Certification.