Teleradiology, academia help military counter workforce crunch

February 18, 2002

Facing a severe shortage of radiologists, the U.S. military has joined forces with academia to develop sophisticated telemedicine technology that will link civilian radiologists with military outposts around the world. An agreement signed in January by

Facing a severe shortage of radiologists, the U.S. military has joined forces with academia to develop sophisticated telemedicine technology that will link civilian radiologists with military outposts around the world.

An agreement signed in January by the U.S. Air Force Medical Service and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center calls for both entities to collaborate in the development of a multispecialty teleconsultation network over the next year. An $8.5 million appropriation in the 2002 defense spending bill will fund the effort.

The network, called the Integrated Medical Information Technology System, will initially support radiology, dermatology, and pathology clinical services. Civilian radiologists will be able to access and view images and information and to consult with military physicians at distant locations.

The need for such a civilian-military partnership arises largely from declining numbers of radiologists in both the private and military sectors. Military medical services are expected to lose 50% of their radiologists over the next three years as a result of their uncompetitive pay scales in a job market characterized by a nationwide shortage of radiologists.

The teleradiology system will be designed to facilitate rapid diagnoses where specialty medical care is not available. Military personnel and their dependents are among the most nomadic members of society and are often subjected to unusual medical conditions that are difficult to diagnose. Their deployment to farflung locations usually means their medical records are missing from local health information systems, hampering effective diagnosis and treatment.

To compound the problem, a number of military medical treatment centers have closed in recent years, resulting in cuts in funding and staffing. Routing radiology and pathology images across the network will help offset this shortage of radiologists and enable real-time consultation between Air Force physicians and specialists in the private healthcare sector.