If a radiologist fell into a time machine and ended up thirty years in the past, it’s likely he or she could still work in the field. The technology would be outdated, but recognizable.
Now imagine a radiologist of today just ten years in the future. The pace of change has become so rapid that the profession might be unrecognizable. There is real potential for massive shifts in every aspect of the job, such as what diagnostic tools are used, how results are read, even how the department is organized and how it communicates with the rest of the system.
This month’s radiology roundup looks at the latest trends in radiology, exploring the possibility of dramatic change just over the horizon. How will the structure of the radiology department evolve? What new diagnostic tools will change the way radiologists work? And finally, how can radiologists prepare for what the future might hold?
Artificial intelligence holds immense promise for augmenting and even automating tasks radiologists do every day. That means more efficient radiology departments in the short-term, but in the long term, may lead to a reduced demand for radiology as a standalone discipline.
In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, co-authors Saurabh Jha and Eric J. Topol suggest that radiology and pathology might merge into a single role, the “information specialist.” Rather than gathering data through diagnostic scans, the information specialist would manage information surfaced by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The change would be a radical departure from the current state of medical engineering, but the authors make a plausible case for the change.
Rather than the future possibility of departments merging, this article explores a trend that is already beginning to restructure radiology departments. Health systems have begun to improve their workflow by adopting teleradiology — the practice of trading data with remote radiologists — into full-fledged distributed radiology services. In other words, radiologists and equipment not on-site comprise the bulk of a health system’s radiology department.
According to the article, the goal of distributed radiology is to augment, not replace, an on-site radiology department, adding expertise and equipment while still maintaining a human presence in the building.
The shift from film to digital images was a major step forward for diagnostic imaging. Now scanners are creating ever more detailed images, requiring ever more storage space, that capture information in three dimensions.
According to this report, the next big change will involve holographic image storage and display. Three dimensional storage in a PACS system could offer exponentially more storage space with faster access than traditional storage media. Then the images could be projected holographically, allowing radiologists to see all the information available from multiple angles.
It sounds like science fiction, but the technology already exists. According to the report’s panel of experts, widespread use of holography in medical imaging is just around the corner.
Of course, as more data is stored digitally and made available across health systems, cybersecurity becomes a very real issue. In 2016, multiple health systems were hacked; their patient data held for ransom. Some chose to pay the hackers’ demands rather than risk data being exposed or deleted.
In this article, journalist Whitney L. Jackson brings the takeaways from a cybersecurity panel at RSNA 2016. According to James Whitfill, MD, the Chief Medical Officer for Scottsdale Health Partners, cybersecurity is too focused on regulatory compliance, ignoring the possibility of a hacking event. “Regulations have been the only motivator, and it’s a lousy one,” Whitfill says. “Regulations don’t work well because they only protect against the most unsophisticated attacks.”
Whitfill then explains the most common types of attacks hackers perpetrate, and how health systems can defend themselves.
Pat Free, Vice President of Radiology Operations at McKesson, presents his thoughts on two major challenges facing radiology departments: reimbursement models and growth strategy. Says Free, “radiology groups need to identify ways to remain viable, vibrant and grow while the health care landscape continues to change.”
Free outlines what he sees as sustainable growth strategies for the coming year, as well as ways to understand and confront reimbursement challenges.
Change is coming to radiology, whether the change is a drastic restructuring of the department or the more subtle continual march of technology. The articles in this roundup can help radiologists and radiology leaders address the challenges of today without taking focus from what’s coming tomorrow.
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