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Radiologists, Don’t Get Sidelined Like the NFL Refs


Radiologists risk being thought of like NFL referees - not needed. Avoid marginalization by staying informed and emphasizing your role in quality and safety.

If you spend much time watching the NFL, you couldn’t possibly have missed the fact that there are replacement referees this year. As of now, it looks like the NFL thinks it can get along fine without the “real” refs. 

In radiology we are at risk from being thought of like NFL referees - that is, not entirely needed. I’ve heard this whispered from time to time in some circles for years. While many people appreciate our role, some do not. The referees are seen by the NFL owners as something peripheral to the game of football, not really part of the play, and replaceable. We must not ever let people think we are not part f the play.

There are two main target audiences that we need to impress that on. The first group is our technical partners. For them we need to demonstrate that we are the ones who are most knowledgeable about quality, and safety.

How can we do that? First, remain at the top of your game by being knowledgeable. Read journals, attend meetings and do CME work that improves your knowledge base. Then demonstrate that knowledge by updating protocols and educating technical staff, and even patients and clinicians with new information.

One method I’ve seen is by offering to provide quarterly, radiology state-of-the art updates for hospital newsletters, and other outlets. Review your protocols regularly, and actively modify them to improve them.

Second, emphasize your primary role in quality. Show everyone that patient safety and quality runs through you first. One easy way to show that is to participate actively in hospital or technical center safety committees. Create safety policies and protocols, then review them regularly. Require regular reviews of quality and participate in their evaluation. Assess quality of equipment regularly and provide feedback to your technical partners. Be critical of your own group’s work and establish a quality control program, with review of oversights and regular over-reads.

The second group is our referring partners and patients. Be in active communication with your referring MDs whenever possible.  Keep actively updated about trends in their specialties. They may not always feel they need your help with what is in their wheelhouse (spine hardware for a spine surgeon, for example) but they will notice if you are not knowledgeable about new techniques and hardware. Keep them updated about changes to equipment or new advances in your area, as this saves them a step in keeping up, and points out your role in advancing quality for them.

In the end, don’t let yourself be marginalized by falling behind or failing to point out your contributions. Make sure everyone is aware of the radiologist’s primary role in quality and safety, in addition to your contributions clinically. 

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