Is Teleradiology Right For Radiology?

November 19, 2014

As a partnership, teleradiology and radiology don’t need to be at odds.

As we prepare to mark the yearly vigil known as “RSNA”, during which we revisit all aspects of radiology, a recurring question remains, “Is teleradiology right for radiology?”

The question seems simple enough, yet some authors and speakers continue to make a virtual (pun intended) living rehashing the issues and non-issues of when and how to use teleradiology or a teleradiology company. In these discussions, teleradiology typically gets painted with the same old brush. The problem is, the reasons given for denouncing teleradiology haven’t dealt with the complexities of the radiology landscape or taken into account the diversity of the options now available.

At one time, teleradiology options were limited. That is not the case today. As with many other segments of the economy there is a resurgence of individual entrepreneurship. New providers are entering the market that are wholly radiologist-owned and have an interest in partnering with on-site groups. These new groups work directly with their on-site partners to provide high quality services and interpretations. This synergetic relationship improves patient care, improves clinician satisfaction, utilization, and decreases cost.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"29644","attributes":{"alt":"Tim Myers, MD","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_5701460222543","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3078","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right; height: 160px; width: 160px;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

In the past, the teleradiology provider was a lesser partner at best or a low quality, low cost option for overnight coverage at worst. These new teleradiology companies are pushing for a complete reevaluation of how teleradiology and on-site radiologists can work together. Being run by radiologists and coming with a unique vision, these new providers are earning a seat at the patient care table with their on-site colleagues. This dynamic, transparent partnership demonstrates bilateral support between the teleradiologist and on-site radiologist to both hospital administration and clinicians. This improves radiologist visibility and demonstrates a motivated and concerned approach to patient care, 24/7.

The key is: partnership. Progressive radiology groups are aggressively reassessing their expectations of their teleradiology provider. They are no longer looking for a vendor; they are looking for a partner. On-site groups are choosing partners whose interests are aligned with their own. These interests include ways to improve organic growth, look at new ventures with hospitals, or other plans for development and expansion. On-site groups stop feeling threatened or vulnerable because this partnership involves radiologists working directly with radiologists. As on-site groups feel more comfortable with their new ally, these relationships can expand to include more subspecialty coverage and even business and administrative operations.

With all of these changes, some of the same old names remain with different behind-the-scenes owners, new names or faces; however, their business plans, with respect to teleradiology remain the same. These strategies haven’t worked and many to most are now in the end-stages of their business cycle.

I don't deny there are bad actors within the general group of teleradiology providers. I believe the  best alternative is to work directly with a radiologist-driven and owned company, move away from the vendor relationship, and create a partnership. By making better choices, we can improve services, repair and improve relationships with clinicians and hospital administration, and create a future with a better direction.