Teleradiology is returning to its original intent in a supportive role. Despite lingering uncertainty of the model, teleradiology offers tangible benefits.
For many radiology groups today, caution still exists when considering aligning with a teleradiology practice. This uncertainty ranges from a perceived threat to their business, to quality assurance and access concerns. While there are a variety of issues that could serve as potential roadblocks, in reality, teleradiology offers tangible advantages, such as reduced overhead, improved morale and the capacity to grow a practice.
Let’s face it, working overnights is typically not viewed positively among radiologists, and it can wreak havoc from a staffing and operational perspective if performed internally. After the discipline of teleradiology emerged in 2000 focusing on a support capacity, some large national practices eventually merged with a different goal in mind. To maximize profits, their venture capitalist-backed ownership tried to change the model by pursuing daytime hours in an attempt to replace conventional radiology groups.
Now, however, teleradiology is returning to its original intent. With concerns over quality control and overall commitment, there has been a shift toward more traditional teleradiology specialists who are content with a purely supportive role. This shift should create a renewed interest in teleradiology for many radiology groups.
Beyond the obvious lack of desire to work overnights, there usually isn’t enough volume to support the expense of a dedicated professional anyway - typically, only five to 15 reads are necessary each night. As such, paying a high salaried physician doesn’t make the most use of their skills and is far too expensive. What’s more, while teleradiologists are usually focused on preliminary interpretations only, arriving at final reads can still be accelerated for their counterparts working days. Of course, practices are required to re-read and verify results but this duplication can help fulfill QC/QA requirements.
In addition to heightened profitability and less administrative headaches, teleradiology can help a practice do more with less staff. As a result, the group can pursue profitable hospital engagements with the confidence of knowing that overnight coverage can be absorbed without hiring new employees. As for attracting new talent, quality of life is often a deciding factor and working off hours isn’t preferable. With teleradiology, that aspect is no longer a hang up, which makes a practice more appealing to young professionals, while improving retention among veteran practitioners.
Finally and most importantly, a practice can simply run smoother if the juggling of staff can be mitigated by working with a teleradiologist. The fact is, these specialists are accustomed to working unusual hours and have adapted to the rigors of the process.
When selecting a provider, it’s wise to ensure that they offer actual employees, as opposed to contractors, to ensure better continuity and quality control when working with them day in, day out. This relationship can be further improved by gaining assurances that the teleradiologist is accessible in real time if there is an inquiry about a read. Ultimately, the right teleradiology partner can have a positive influence, so radiology groups can fulfill their overnight commitments while dedicating staff and resources to daytime hours.
Michael Myers, MD, is a co-founder of NightShift Radiology, a national teleradiology provider established in 2001.