When you discussed radiology’s future 10 years ago, the conversation covered a wide gamut, ranging from teleradiology to reimbursement changes to avoiding commoditization. The industry faced these challenges head-on and has largely determined how to handle them.
Today, questions about radiology’s future and how you’ll practice center on different issues. Data. Decision-making. A more personalized touch to care. In the coming years, knowing how it all will impact your practice—and understanding how to adjust—will be paramount to staying competitive within the market, industry leaders say.
“I do think there is a great amount of change coming down the pipeline,” says Arun Krishnaraj, MD, a radiologist with the University of Virginia Health System. “Some of the changes are fundamentally different. They deal with emerging technologies and how patients view radiology care and access to radiologists.”
What will change?
While radiology will fundamentally remain the same, the tools and strategies you employ to provide the highest level of patient care will change.
“In the coming decade, it’s going to be the soft skills of radiologists that will make us valued individuals in healthcare,” Krishnaraj says. “It will be our ability to integrate and navigate the vast troves of data in a variety of silos to be at the nexus of healthcare that will make us the drivers of healthcare decision-making.”
Although it hasn’t historically been your role or focus, implementing more screening programs and clinical decision support (CDS) will put you in the position to positively impact population health, he says.
Instead of only generating more images, you’ll have more opportunities, through CDS, to influence and control what tests patients receive. By doing so, you’ll expand your role in fulfilling the tenet of ensuring the right patient receives the right test at the right time.
The next decade will see a sustained push toward more structured reporting, says Mark Mamlouk, MD, adjunct assistant clinical professor of neuroradiology at the University of California, San Francisco.
“In the coming years, we’ll see more radiologists working to embrace structured reporting over traditional prose reporting,” he says. “We’ll specifically see structured reporting in the context of disease diagnosis, and standardizing the lexicon radiologists use will become more mainstream.”
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For instance, right now, he says, reporting a image as “consistent with tumor” or “suggestive of tumor” can mean different things. Standardizing language will increase confidence across-the-board in what radiology reports actually say.
Additionally, he says, existing efforts to make reports more multimedia-rich will expand. If you don’t already, within the coming years, you’ll be able to embed links in your reports that will take referring physicians directly to images that highlights your findings.
The industry will make greater strides over the next decade to play a more integrated patient-care role, says Jonathan Flug, MD, a musculoskeletal radiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.
“Radiology has really embraced patient-centered care and has been moving the needle in that direction,” he says. “A couple of years ago, everybody thought they didn’t have time to talk to every patient. But, I think people have found ways to really start thinking more about patients and their whole disease process rather than just image interpretation.”
For example, greater implementation of PI-RADS and LI-RADS—categorization systems for prostate and liver findings—will enhance the information you communicate to referring physicians and patients about your findings. Using these types of systems will augment the accuracy and level of detail in your reports.
One of the biggest advancements over the next decade, Mamlouk says, will be in radiogenomics: systems that allow you to analyze the correlation between cancer imaging features and gene expression.