The Current State of Radiology
The modern health system is evolving to be more data-driven, more transparent, and more collaborative. The radiology department is not immune to these changes. In fact, radiologists can be the catalyst for positive change throughout the entire health system.
Vendor neutral archives (VNAs) have the potential to free imaging data from its radiology silo, making it easier to collaborate and communicate with other departments. VNAs also enable imaging to be integrated with the EHR, empowering imaging physicians to make better-informed decisions.
With increased access to data, radiologists have increased responsibility to be an active participant in the patient care dialog. Proactive follow-up is needed to make sure their recommendations are adequately communicated and followed.
Intelligent workflow solutions can help by prioritizing tasks and automating reminders for follow-up. Streamlining and increasing efficiency in workflows is an essential part of the next evolution of the radiology department. The ability to do more with less will enable radiologists to survive and thrive through provider consolidation, reimbursement woes, and increase demand for services from an aging population.
It’s an exciting and challenging time to be a radiologist. The fundamental structure of health systems is in flux, and imaging must change along with it. The upside is, those who stay up-to-date on the latest developments — and are flexible enough to embrace change — can help shape the future of radiology. Now is the time for a new breed of imaging professionals to emerge and lead the way.
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Improving Patient Outcomes Through Data
Health systems generate a staggering amount of patient data now, more than ever before. The sheer volume will only increase through time, as new tools enable even more fine-tuned data collection.
This wealth of information can provide needed context to better inform diagnoses. There are two major challenges radiology departments must overcome to fully use data to improve patient outcomes: storage and relevancy.
New types of scans, such as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), produce large image files that can tax outdated storage infrastructures. Health systems are turning to cloud-based VNAs that allow for expandable, flexible storage as a future-proof solution. Radiology departments must ensure that these new solutions include viewers that are compatible with the file types that DBT and other high-resolution scans use.
The other major challenge is surfacing the most relevant data to guide radiologists’ decision making. Finding the right data quickly can be a challenge, especially when patient data is spread across multiple programs and workstations.
Health systems can address the relevancy issue with intelligent viewing software. The right viewer can consolidate data from multiple sources into a single dashboard, then surface the most relevant data for the current clinical issue.
With sufficient storage through a VNA and the ability to quickly access the right data, radiologists can use the wealth of patient data to make better-informed decisions that can help improve patient outcomes.
VNAs should promote interoperability between systems and file types, enabling a seamless experience for providers. Instead of manually assembling the puzzle pieces of patient data, providers can see the complete picture. Software can leverage the VNA to create a single-interface solution, with no need to switch between viewers or physically move to a different workstation.
The interoperability of a VNA also reduces bottlenecks that can throttle communication between departments running on different proprietary systems. It ensures departments can continue to share data efficiently even if one chooses a new vendor.
A VNA is an investment in the future of a health system. True interoperability means knowing that even if parts of the IT environment change, the VNA will still work properly.
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Radiology Workflow and Interoperability
Radiologists are increasingly challenged to do more with less. Many departments are starting to feel the pressure of making more context-driven decisions, communicating findings to more stakeholders, and taking a more active role in following up on their recommendations.
As radiologists become more active participants in patient care, it’s becoming a necessity to evaluate existing systems for workflow and reporting. A workflow that involves two different workstations, notes on paper, and manually setting follow-up reminders will produce more bottlenecks than positive patient outcomes.
A consolidated, automated, intelligent workflow is the best way forward. Intelligent workflow software can streamline processes without sacrificing the quality of care. It can, in fact, enhance care by freeing up resources and properly prioritizing patient care.
In order to create a more efficient, automated workflow, it is crucial that systems from different vendors work seamlessly with each other. While full interoperability is still a work in progress, vendors have made great strides towards the goal.
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Value-Based Care in Radiology
The radiology department is a major stakeholder in the move to value-based care. Right now, there is a lack of universal metrics for measuring the value of radiology in concrete terms. That presents the opportunity for radiologists to proactively define these metrics.
Some possible points of measurement include the overall number of scans, number of redundant scans avoided, and amount of radiation exposure. With data mining and analytics, radiology departments can surface trends that further demonstrate value. For example, the effect on overall patient health of specific radiologist recommendations.
The same solutions that help manage data and streamline workflow help radiologists quantify, measure and improve the value of their work. Enhanced reporting at the patient level generates data that can be used in large studies to generate performance-improving insights. Better communication between departments through a fully-integrated EHR enables radiology to demonstrate the value they contribute to a health system’s combined efforts.
Value based care is the end goal that is driving the current evolution of health care. There is no question that radiology contributes substantially to value. The ongoing challenge is to continue to find ways to deliver more value efficiently and at scale, and to establish the metrics and reporting that make proving and improving value possible.