The Benefits of Putting a New Lens on “Consumer” Technology

Paul Shumway, VP of Client Services, Novarad

What do these advancements bring to imaging departments?

The temporary ban on in-person contact during the pandemic forced the entire healthcare industry to reexamine how services are performed. Although the methods used to capture patient images may not have changed, modifications to reimbursement guidelines due to COVID-19 now make it feasible for imaging groups to use pervasive consumer technologies in novel ways.

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention. So, even as the pandemic wreaks havoc on health system budgets and compels department executives to do more with less, it also is forging new pathways. Paradoxically, perhaps, COVID-19 may have spurred the industry to better leverage existing technologies that promise cost savings and workflow efficiencies, as well as improved provider and patient experiences.

Fresh uses for familiar tech

Consumer technology is constantly advancing, continually opening doors we don’t even know exist. When the smartphone first was invented, for example, how could we have foreseen the advent of 5G? Yet healthcare executives already can leverage consumer technologies to achieve greater efficiencies, lower costs, and increase provider and patient satisfaction. Here’s a look at how four such technologies—mobile phones/tablets, QR codes, web-based viewers, and video gaming cards—can benefit imaging departments:

Mobile phones / tablets

The ability for providers to access images and reports outside the four walls of a hospital or health system used to be considered a “nice to have.” Not anymore. Providers who had to quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure revealed how crucial it is to enable access to images from anywhere.

Mobile phones are about as ubiquitous as it gets when it comes to consumer technology, of course. Secure apps can turn personal phones into a viable way to efficiently access reports and images from anywhere, without the risk of a data breach since no information is ever stored on the phones.

Older technologies require referring physicians to sign in each time they want to check whether an imaging report is ready. By contrast, newer technologies can recognize referring providers’ mobile devices after initial sign-in. That means they don’t have to sign in again, and they can receive text messages alerting them when routine or STAT reports are ready. The immediate notification lets them access real-time information at their convenience.

Secure mobile technology also keeps radiologists from the disruption of playing “telephone tag” to tell referring providers that reports or images are ready. It “knows” which referring physicians should get which alerts and delivers them with minimal effort.

QR codes

QR codes were first developed in 1994 for use in the Japanese automotive industry. During the pandemic, they’ve been used extensively by consumers for contactless payments and information sharing. In imaging departments, QR codes permit images and reports from any DICOM or visible light image source to be securely shared directly with patients and providers.

As opposed to burning images to a compact disc (CD), QR codes give patients and physicians easier, more immediate image access. Staff simply print the QR code on a regular piece of paper—making for a more cost-effective and efficient workflow.

QR codes enable secure cloud storage and access to images. They enhance care coordination and the patient experience because individuals get images faster, as needed, on their device of choice, without the frustration of having to log in or remember usernames and passwords.

While few patients have CD players anymore, it’s easy for them to download a QR code reader to their mobile phones. So, they may be more likely to drive referrals to those radiologists who use QR codes instead of those who still rely on CDs.

Web-based universal viewer

Most image viewers are segmented by clinical department. While useful from a specialty perspective, perhaps, this siloed approach inhibits communication between interdisciplinary physicians. By leveraging cloud technology, universal web-based viewers take a more patient-centric approach—one that brings together a patient’s images from across all departments.

In addition to making the electronic health record (EHR) more effective, the ability to consolidate information from different parts of the EHR gives providers a more holistic view of the patient record. Patients, too, can benefit when providers use a web-based universal viewer to show them their entire health story on a mobile device in an exam room.

For radiologists, an image viewer that delivers more information can lead to more efficient workflows—such as cutting tumor board prep time by 25 percent-to-30 percent, for example. Speeding patient throughput while preserving informative, personalized care may also create more satisfactory patient experiences and increase reimbursement.

Gaming industry video cards

Advanced imaging features, such as 3D, run slowly when rendered on a server. Running off of a workstation’s video card instead can accelerate access. So, why not “borrow” technology from a consumer industry well-known for imaging innovation: gaming. By leveraging technology that takes advantage of video cards used throughout the gaming industry, radiology teams can ensure that crisp, advanced images render quickly on workstations.

Improved experiences, greater efficiency

The temporary bans on in-person contact during the pandemic forced us collectively to question our thinking about healthcare services. Which services are essential—and exactly how essential? Which procedures can be done in a remote or contactless manner? Which ones require in-person service?

Imaging procedures may always require in-person service. Even with the evolution of telehealth, patients must be physically present to be scanned by an MRI, CT, X-ray or other modality—at least, for now. What has changed is the desire to pursue different tactics to get those images to and from referring providers, patients, and other clinicians.

Technology doesn’t need to be brand-new to have brand-new impacts. Today, imaging groups are using familiar consumer-based technologies to “do more with less” in ways that actually improve physician and patient experiences. COVID-19 just accelerated the adoption of these technologies; one can only imagine the innovations to come.

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