The movement of healthcare delivery from fee-for-service to value-based payments has hit every segment of the industry, and imaging is certainly no exception. Every test is scrutinized for appropriateness with consideration being given to cost of the imaging studies as well as potential for radiation exposure with some of the imaging modalities.
Those measures are reasonable to help safeguard patients and reduce the incidence of unnecessary imaging, which has been estimated at $12 billion annually in the U.S.
With each new advancement in the field of medical imaging, there is renewed focus on the industry which is truly exciting. Physicians are receiving higher quality images that allow them to provide more specific and meaningful information to their patients. As improvements in imaging software and technique become more widespread and accessibility to imaging expands, more patients can benefit from these technological advancements. Seeing truly is believing and with the increased use of 3D reconstruction techniques along with newer 3D advancements being developed, patients will be able to visualize their injury or illness to help them gain a better understanding of their condition and perhaps encourage them to more closely comply with care and rehabilitation instructions.
3D Imaging Becoming Mainstream
Advances in 3D imaging technology are being developed which may serve as a valuable tool for both providers and patients. While 3D reconstruction of CT and MRI are currently utilized in a variety of settings such as in the preoperative planning for tumor resection, visualization of a patient’s cardiac anatomy, or in assessing and treating fractures, they are not as readily available or affordable to many patients. Additionally, newer innovations with regards to 3D technology look to allow the images to actually “jump off the screen” bringing more life to the images and allowing for a more interactive experience. A 2011 study by Global Industry Analysts placed the 3D imaging market at just under $6 billion globally by 2017. But a 2013 study from MarketsandMarkets pegged the industry at nearly $10 billion globally by 2018.
Quality Continues to Rise
Image quality seems to increase with every new machine, software update, and sequencing specification helping radiologists and other physicians make more accurate diagnoses and ultimately provide better medical care to their patients. A knee MRI, for example, can visualize bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and other soft tissue structures. However, utilizing the advancements in sequencing protocols can allow for better visualization of specific anatomical structures of clinical interest to the physician. As a sports medicine specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery, these advancements provide me with more detailed imaging, allowing me to make more accurate diagnoses and ultimately provide my patients with more appropriate treatment. Having the ability to better visualize anatomical structures and appreciate subtle abnormalities can sometimes have a significant impact with regards to recommending treatment such as surgery versus non-surgical management.
More Patient-Centric Options
While we look to improve the quality of images being produced, patient comfort while undergoing testing is an important consideration with the heightened emphasis on patient satisfaction scores. Length of scan time and noise associated with MRI scans are examples of common patient complaints. Open air MRIs have attempted to address the issue of claustrophobia associated with this imaging modality, however it comes at the expense of image quality and is an example of where future advancements will help to improve patient satisfaction without having to sacrifice the quality of the images.
In my own practice, I use ScriptEdMD notepads to help patients visually understand their diagnosis and condition because their MRI or X-ray findings can sometimes be difficult for them to fully understand without having a background in the medical field. I think in the future with the increased use of 3D reconstruction and other advances in 3D imaging, the patient’s own images will be more visually understandable and by using an iPad® or other tablets, the physician will be able to more easily have discussions with the patient regarding their imaging findings. With the significant rise in implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) into hospitals and outpatient practices, it will also benefit the patient if these images can be uploaded into their electronic health record so that it can be shared amongst different providers and institutions.
Bridging the Divide Among People, Process, Technology
As we take strides towards generating higher quality and more clinically meaningful images, it is crucial to recognize the need for improving accessibility to imaging as well as better communication between the imaging devices, providers, EHRs and health systems so that these images can be better utilized to provide better patient care and streamline costs associated with repeating imaging or time consumed trying to obtain previous imaging studies.
Because those communications are of critical importance, departments may need professional help optimizing workflows so that efficiencies can be recognized as well as incorporating these new technologies into their Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans so that the quality of patient care is maintained, or even enhanced.
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