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Study finds radiologists work faster when interpreting soft-copy CT

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Radiologists can expect to become more productive interpreting soft-copy CT images than using conventional film on a viewbox, according to a new study. The transition to filmless imaging has the potential to improve report turnaround time as well.

Radiologists can expect to become more productive interpreting soft-copy CT images than using conventional film on a viewbox, according to a new study. The transition to filmless imaging has the potential to improve report turnaround time as well.

Researchers comparing radiologist productivity in film-based environments with filmless PACS imaging environments measured radiologists' times in the interpretation of CT using hard-copy films and using a soft-copy PACS computer workstation.

"The study found that soft-copy interpretation of CT using a PACS workstation requires less time than interpretation using conventional film," said Dr. Bruce Reiner, director of radiology research at the VA Maryland Health Care System in Baltimore.

The time-motion analysis reported in the paper showed a reduction of 16.2% in the overall time required for soft-copy interpretation of CT compared with that of conventional film. (Reiner BI, Siegel EL, Hooper FJ, et al. Radiologists' productivity in the interpretation of CT scans: A comparison of PACS with conventional film. AJR 2001;176:861-864)

For the study, 100 CT examinations were selected at random and reviewed by four board-certified radiologists experienced in soft-copy interpretation. Time-motion analysis was performed to determine the total time required to display, interpret, and dictate the individual findings of CT using conventional hard-copy interpretation on a viewbox and again for soft-copy interpretation, using a four-monitor high-resolution (2048 x 1536 pixel) workstation, according to Reiner.

Time savings with soft-copy interpretation were observed for all four participating radiologists, he said. The benefit of soft-copy interpretation was increased for examinations that included comparison studies.

The study reflected a growing interest in radiologist productivity. According to the Radiology Business Management Association, radiologists have historically been comfortable referring to the "number of procedures" to quantify productivity in their practices. However, as practice diversity has expanded to include new modalities, more complex examinations associated with this new equipment, and more extensive "special procedures," the reliability of comparing numbers of procedures as a productivity indicator has diminished.

"Productivity is the name of the game in today's practice environment," Reiner said. "Any way you can make workers more productive means cost savings, time savings, and timelier information - all of which has the potential for improved patient care."

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