Diagnostic imaging departments were once driving straight on a fairly smooth road. In the last few years, the Affordable Care Act has caused some significant bumps and now with the shift to value-based care, even more rough road may be ahead. Some imaging executives will choose small adjustments, akin to buying larger tires to accommodate the rough surface. We think a sharp turn toward quality care is by far the better choice.
The swing away from quantity of care in the current fee-for-service reimbursement model toward cost-effective, yet high quality care has begun in earnest, and the pace is increasing. For diagnostic imaging departments, that means finding ways to stay highly relevant to the care management team by adding value to the diagnostic process (see our previous post on value-based care to learn more).
Fortunately, technology is improving every day, allowing savvy executives to focus on providing the right image accompanied by the relevant data at exactly the right time to aid in early and accurate diagnosis.
1. Finding the Right Imaging Record
Quickly finding and accessing an image from the patient’s imaging record that is relevant to the patient’s current episode are keys to accurate and early diagnosis. Contemporary enterprise imaging systems are intelligent enough to let imaging clinicians apply semantic logic to determine whether or not a prior study is relevant. For example, if a patient has been admitted for a car accident but has previously had a coronary event, the system can quickly analyze the imaging report text to determine if the patient’s prior chest CT will be useful to the examining physician. This must not be confined to our current limitations of accessibility – adopting interoperability standards such as XDSi can unlock access to prior imaging data across departments, enterprises and entire regions.
2. Integrating Image Results with Clinical Data
Integrating imaging results with other clinical data to help improve outcomes is also important in providing quality care. With the wealth of information available in EHRs, imaging clinicians can use patient history, surgical summaries, lab tests, pathology reports and more to provide a more valuable service to patients and physicians. However, this must be done with a laser focus on relevancy in mind – pulling up the entire patient record for every imaging diagnosis can slow down the workflow and impede interpretation productivity. The challenge is to filter the clinical data by relevancy, relative to the imaging procedure, and serve it all up within the imaging cockpit. For instance, the enterprise medical imaging system needs to be intelligent enough to cross-reference imaging results for a Glioma with the relevant pathology reports and the surgical notes from the last procedures, without requiring the clinician to take their eyes off the image and dive into the EHR.
3. Accessing Images at the Right Time for Early Diagnosis
The final tip is ensuring physicians have access to combined image and data the moment they can act on it based on where they are in the care process. Imaging systems that allow images to be accessible from a variety of devices in a variety of settings, rather than a designated hospital workstation, are essential. Even more important than location is timing. A physician in the midst of an exam or diagnostic procedure should never have to wait on the imaging department to see and manipulate the most relevant image. The imaging industry must step up to provide ubiquitous access to data – anytime, anywhere – something other industries, like banking, have long achieved.
Interoperability and Flexibility Drive Speedy Diagnosis
Clearly, diagnostic imaging departments need a sophisticated imaging vehicle to get them to their destination. Interoperability should be the engine of choice, putting images, imaging reports and clinical data at the fingertips of every clinician who needs them.
Flexibility is the next critical feature, especially in the current regulatory environment. The system needs to be flexible enough to add new clinical workflows, allowing clinicians to react to the regulatory changes on the horizon. And, a flexible system allows imaging departments to adjust workflow tasks based on their own clinical, operational, and financial setting.
The combination of interoperability and flexibility moves imaging workflow from a winding country road to a high-speed freeway. Take your simple department work-list and turn it loose in an integrated environment. It becomes a dynamic enterprise work space that allocates jobs to the best possible reader, to help improve outcomes and promote economies of scale. Instead of creating a pediatric reading group in Chicago, send those jobs to an existing group in Dallas with instructions to re-route to the St. Louis pediatric group if Dallas’s volume that day will prevent it from meeting their service level agreements.
There’s one more factor to consider as you look at the road ahead: who’s in the passenger seat? To succeed on your journey, you need a partner who will go beyond simple navigation to help you find the best of everything nearby. The more knowledgeable and service-oriented your medical imaging technology partner, the more value you’ll derive from your systems, and the faster you’ll arrive at your destination of a higher quality early diagnosis on a consistent basis.
What are your thoughts on diagnostic imaging for accurate, early diagnosis? Feel free to leave me a comment.