Teleradiology Veterans See 140-Percent Spike in Productivity

An existing program set one London hospital up for success in managing images remotely during COVID-19.

Without question, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed teleradiology into the spotlight. Practices that had previously dabbled in the technology rushed to expand their efforts, and those who had resisted altogether found themselves quickly trying to put plans in place. But, those practices and departments with established teleradiology systems discovered they were in the position to best weather this continuing storm.

St. Mary’s Hospital in London is one such facility. COVID-19 was not even a whispered concern when they implemented a pilot teleradiology program in June 2019. But, the system they created led to exponential growth in their productivity, setting them up for continued success during the outbreak.

The team published the results of their experience recently in Clinical Radiology.

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To create the teleradiology program, St. Mary’s leaders reached out to and employed a 17-year veteran radiologist located in Sydney, Australia who was charged with overnight reads for the hospital and checking after-hours on-call reports from radiology registrars. The three-month initiative was designed to examine the change in reporting productivity over the four weeks prior to the pilot launch and during the study.

According to their analysis, the department saw a 140-percent spike in reporting productivity compared to the same number of in-hospital sessions that occurred during the four weeks before the pilot began. The remote reads included routine musculoskeletal and general CT and MRI studies. In addition, department leaders said they saw a 40-percent drop in the time needed for the consultant to authorize the report.

All of these benefits paved the way for the department to easily slip into more widespread remote reading for all providers once the pandemic hit, said the team led by E.A. Dick, a consultant radiologist with St. Mary’s larger organization Imperial College National Health Services Trust, and they indicated these changes could be here to stay.

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“There has been a national realization across healthcare, as for other workplaces, that remote working is desirable for the duration of the pandemic and that remote working should be optimized to provide a service as good as that seen in traditional in-hospital Trust settings,” they wrote. “Additionally, there is a growing realization that working patterns will likely be permanently changed.”

Alongside the uptick in productivity, provider feedback was also positive. Most indicated they noticed improved service even though they simultaneously expressed disappointment that they could not easily communicate with the remote radiologist to discuss cases.

“A remote reporting service has to not only deliver a technologically seamless service, but also to deliver communication with the clinical teams at least as good as that given in person,” the team said. “The remote reporter has to work harder to maintain good communication – provide easy-to-access telephone, email, and message services – and, most of all, reach out to clinicians.”

Even with this drawback, though, the team said the pilot program, overall, clearly demonstrates the value and efficacy of a teleradiology program both for the current pandemic circumstances and beyond.

“This pilot study has relevance for all radiologists and radiology service providers in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 era, not only because it showed better prodcuvity and shorter time to consultant authorization,” said Dick’s team. “The positive feedback from clinicians and opportunities for increased support of registrars suggest potential benefits to training, and therefore, patient care.”