Over the past decade, radiology’s technologies and modalities have advanced to improve your ability to quickly and accurately render diagnoses for your patients, making your to-do list longer. The faster you work, the more patients you see—the more images you have to read.
In 10 years, it’s possible you’ve seen your individual caseload climb from approximately 30 studies daily to nearly 100, according to industry estimates. Keeping up while avoiding backlogs and burnout means you need efficient systems to set you up for success.
“As radiologists we’re seeing anywhere from 50 to 100 to 200 patients daily, depending upon the practice. That’s a huge number of patients,” says Alexander Towbin, MD, chair of radiology informatics and associate chief of clinical operations and informatics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “And, to do so safely and be an effective radiologist, you must have efficient systems.”
Not only do efficient systems keep your practice or department running smoothly, he says, but they also keep costs down by limiting the personnel you hire to accommodate your needs.
Because your report is your final product, streamlining your workload is paramount, but maximizing your overall efficiency is equally important.
Creating an efficient radiology value stream
Radiology’s value stream—the production line culminating with a specific good—ends with the radiology report. And, Towbin says, you can take several steps to improve your process. The following changes helped Cincinnati Children’s reduce the number of clicks needed to read 10 studies from approximately 100 to 15:
Standardize ordering: Create an order-naming protocol, including modality, body part, any special instructions, and side of the body for ordering providers, radiologists, and technologists to use.
Re-name confusing orders: Examine your frequently mis-ordered studies and switch them to more accurate names. Consider building alternate names, such as sonography or US for ultrasound, into the electronic medical record so ordering providers can easily find and correct tests. Additionally, create combination orders for tests typically performed together, such as CT of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
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These order changes, Towbin says, reduce incorrectly placed orders and phone calls to correct them.
Data entry: Simplify filling in orders. For example, default priority status based on location, such as always assigning “ASAP” priority to emergency department orders. This makes it easier for you and your technologists to triage orders. Additionally, require clinical history and exam reason. Not only does it inform your diagnosis, but it also ensures you answer the clinician’s question, eliminating a possible follow-up call.
Structured reports: Having structured reports leads to both upstream and downstream efficiency, Towbin says. Because reports have standardized language and information, clinicians for all Cincinnati’s departments have used the findings to guide treatment. Additionally, structured reports make it easier fulfill any payer requests.
Results delivery: Create a system that allows for the most flexibility in delivering results, he says. A system that lets radiologists and clinicians determine whether they want to communicate via telephone is preferable because it could expedite care for critically ill patients.