Tackling Radiologist Burnout through Teleradiology

July 2, 2019

How the technology is helping address burnout while delivering comprehensive, connected care globally.

Today’s radiologists are being asked to work more efficiently against the rising pressure of increased imaging volume, growing complexity of cases, and fewer resources. The result of this intensified workload is a modern-day epidemic where approximately half of radiologists in the U.S. are experiencing feelings of burnout.

In addition to being overworked, radiologists are also operating in an age of heightened consumerization of healthcare; patients’ expectations for convenient and customized care delivery are mounting every day. These demands not only jeopardize a radiologist’s wellbeing, but also the healthcare system itself. 

One way of tackling the issue is with teleradiology. With remote interpretation of patient images from medical imaging studies, such as CT, MR, and X-ray exams, radiologists don’t need to be in the same location as the patient. The global teleradiology market is among the fastest growing segments in radiology and the clinical services outsourcing market, and is expected to be a sizable part of the imaging interpretation market within the next few years.

Related article: 7 Reasons Rads Burn Out-And How to Cope

Now, the term “teleradiology” is more accurately described as “virtual radiology” as we’re seeing the clinical services outsourcing business model move from being used mostly for off-hours, subspecialty areas, or individual imaging remote procedures to enabling a 24x7 connected, comprehensive and cost-effective global approach both within a network and outside that is transforming delivery of care.

Virtual radiology not only empowers radiologists to manage their case load remotely, but also offers patients the convenience they seek to access care when and how they prefer. Furthermore, for those patients who may not have access to advanced imaging technology or the expertise they need, virtual radiology supports quality standardization across the care setting-no matter where a patient is located. With this expanded virtual radiology approach, the industry has the potential to improve job satisfaction to reduce burnout, create better access to advanced diagnostics, and enable a universal standard for diagnostic imaging for all patients across the world.

Driving a Seamless Virtual Radiology Network with Artificial Intelligence

In the U.S., the continuing consolidation of hospitals is now necessitating a similar merger of radiology practices who can now better deliver services remotely. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), virtual radiology enables providers to increase their imaging volume while maintaining quality. A virtual or tele-radiologist can take on more image reads and consistently interpret them in a shorter time with quality results. AI helps automate these tasks and prioritize the most urgent cases. Ultimately, this will help alleviate the mounting pressure radiologists are under – by offering the ability to interpret images remotely – radiologists can do so on schedules and locations that work best for them.

The rise of AI signals our industry’s transition from a focus on siloed solutions to integrated platforms that supports a radiologist’s existing workflow. As a key driver behind virtual radiology, AI helps augment the radiologist’s knowledge and capabilities and improve connectivity, while reducing human error through enhanced imaging assessment. With the support of AI algorithms, it’s possible to acquire high-quality images during the first scan for review remotely, accelerating workflows and ultimately treatment. Using AI, health systems can also recognize a radiologist’s availability, and re-route a case to the next expert in the queue if needed, for example.

By combining efficiency, quality and AI, virtual radiology allows radiologists to focus on making a confident diagnosis and less on technical processes. With fewer secondary or delayed scans, radiology administrators can also focus more on strategy, such as maintaining quality or reducing cost per diagnosis. This helps drive a seamless virtual radiology network, linking providers together with patients regardless of location.

Achieving a universal standard of diagnostic imaging

In addition to the benefits for imaging staff, virtual radiology has the potential to transform healthcare by providing access to diagnostic services and medical expertise to people in areas around the world that need it most. According to global market analysis conducted by Transparency Market Research on behalf of Philips, the global teleradiology services market was valued at $4.6 billion in 2017 and is estimated to reach $21.8 billion by 2026. This growing trend will impact patient access in both developed and developing healthcare markets. In developing markets, virtual radiology makes advanced imaging technology and the expertise of radiologists practicing at the top of their license accessible to underserved regions. In developed countries, virtual radiology helps standardize the quality and access to care no matter where patients are, including imaging quality, protocol and diagnostic outcome.

In addition to level-setting care, virtual radiology will help radiologists adapt to the unprecedented influence patients have as consumers of healthcare. Patients can have direct access to radiologists, and speak with them via video-conference to gain clarity on their diagnosis or treatment plan. Virtual radiology also gives radiologists the ability to monitor and engage with patients more meaningfully. This is particularly important for patients with complex health challenges, such as cancer or neuro-degenerative diseases, whose care path is fluid and whose treatment effectiveness is assessed more frequently. By providing new avenues for patient interaction and proactively addressing any red flags before they escalate, radiologists will regain some of the human-interaction that can make their job rewarding, and patient care will reap the benefits.

Transforming healthcare delivery in the future

Recently ranked as the largest growing healthcare outsourcing sector, with 90% of providers considering outsourcing in 2019, an increasing amount of healthcare professionals are realizing the benefits of virtual radiology for both themselves and their patients. Rather than being tied to a particular hospital or anxiously waiting for results from their primary care doctor, patients will have the option to have their images reviewed by top-level physicians no matter where they are. This also offers the radiologist flexibility in their workload, helping to keep burnout at bay. 

Radiologist burnout is as alarming as the diseases we treat patients for and deserves the same attention. By activating a more cost-effective, efficient path to diagnosis and treatment, virtual radiology helps democratize care and support the imaging staff that delivers it. With a broader view of the transformative nature of teleradiology, we can reduce radiologist stress, improve the speed and accuracy of image interpretation, and facilitate collaboration among clinical care teams globally while providing a strong platform for future growth.

Sham Sokka is marketing leader, Precision Diagnosis at Philips