Radiologists turn to instant messaging to solve communication woes

May 21, 2004

It's not just for teenagers anymore: Instant messaging services may provide a valuable communication service for radiology teams, according to a study presented at a Thursday SCAR scientific session.Communication breakdown in is one of the most common

It's not just for teenagers anymore: Instant messaging services may provide a valuable communication service for radiology teams, according to a study presented at a Thursday SCAR scientific session.

Communication breakdown in is one of the most common problems cited in malpractice cases, said study author Dr. Amy Musk of the Baltimore VA Medical Center. Dr. Khan M. Siddiqui at the Geisinger Medical Center was the primary author of the study.

Musk and her colleagues took a look at a variety of instant messaging services to try to find a more efficient and faster way to connect radiologists throughout the mid-Atlantic states.

Researchers involved in the study work in the following locations:
? VA Maryland Heath Care System, Baltimore, MD
? University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus
? University of Maryland, College Park Campus
? University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD
? Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, PA
? Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Seaford, DE

The group evaluated several freely available instant messaging services: America Online IM, Microsoft Network IM, Yahoo Messenger IM, ICQ, and Trillian. They all provide instantaneous communication over the Internet, with a few distinguishing value-adds.

The instant messaging services include the ability to open up applications on separate computers simultaneously, videoconferencing, file sharing and transferring capabilities, and e-mail notifications.

Instant messaging trumped e-mail communication in several ways, including the ability to track team members down, Musk said. Once a radiologist had logged on to the instant messaging system, other team members could see how long that member's computer had been idle and when he or she returned to the workstation.

Some services allow researchers to keep logs of their conversations, providing a simple documentation method for research. In the future, instant messaging could be integrated with a PACS and an electronic medical record, and conversation logs would be directly documented in the hospital's information database.

The team's instant messaging system came to the rescue in an 11th hour publishing crisis, Musk said. When they were unable to contact a vendor for a consultation by either phone or e-mail, they discovered the consultant had an instant messenger ID. They found the consultant online and completed their work immediately.

Since that experience, the consultant has continued to use the instant messaging service with the team, she said.

During a question and answer period, an audience member brought up the subject of security and HIPAA regulations. Musk said that instant messenger service providers are already developing solutions that will use encryption and other techniques to secure data transfer.

"Instant messaging is a cost-effective communication solution for a multi-institution research team," Musk said.