The Time to Combat Radiologic Technologist Burnout is Now

April 7, 2021
Rob Fabrizio, Director of Strategic Marketing, Digital Radiography and Women’s Health, FUJIFILM Medical Systems U.S.A., Inc.

Four ways imaging vendors can help.

Heavy lifting, repetitive motions, long hours, skittish patients and demanding physicians. These are just a few of the many challenges radiologic technologists (rad techs) contend with every day. The job is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding.

It’s no surprise, then, that occupational stress and burnout are a reality for many rad techs. Especially in the aftermath of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, where demand for bedside images sky-rocketed, the likelihood of rad tech burnout is greater than ever before.

Also in the height of COVID-19 surges, many imaging centers and radiology departments postponed non-urgent imaging exams for several months. Today, these imaging facilities are faced with a backlog. Dealing with an unusually high volume of patients has become a harsh reality for many of today’s rad techs. Add to that the fact that techs must take extra time to thoroughly clean and sterilize equipment after each patient—all while being concerned about their own health and safety.

With an already demanding job, these additional pressures in the era of COVID-19 can quickly escalate and result in tech fatigue and burnout.

Stress and burnout not only affect the individual tech, but also the entire organization and its bottom line. Stress can lead to depression, fatigue, and sloppy work, which in turn can result in absenteeism, lost productivity, and medical errors.

So it goes without saying, organizations can ill-afford burnout among the ranks. After all, rad techs are the lifeblood of any imaging department. Radiologists rely on techs to get the image right so they can accurately diagnose patients. Keeping techs at their best is in everyone’s interest.

Now is the time to take the necessary steps to ensure your techs are happy and healthy. By being proactive, you can combat tech burnout before it happens—and that’s going to reflect positively on the quality of your workplace and the quality of patient care.

Understand the Sources of Stress

Over the years, studies and surveys have identified multiple sources of stress for techs. These include inconsistent management, inefficient communication, conflicting demands, long work hours, excessive workloads, lack of work breaks, time pressures, and equipment or technology.

Organizations must take multiple actions to reduce stress factors, such as better communication, a focus on proper staffing and patient scheduling, and even education about personal wellness (i.e., sleep habits, diet, etc.). For example, making more use of staff huddles, electronic communications and or even hosting short webinars on self-care can provide clarity and boost morale.

Related Content: Maximizing the Radiologist-Radiologic Technologist Relationship

The majority of issues that cause workplace stress are internal problems and must be addressed by leadership. If your organization is short-staffed, is there a way to increase headcount or bring on a temp? If techs never get a break, is there maybe a need for a new written policy on this matter? These are examples of issues that only an internal leader can address. However, there are a number of ways that your imaging vendors can contribute to alleviating tech burnout, as well. Here are four to consider.

Choose Ergonomic, Automated Equipment

Fatigue can be a stressor, and routinely dealing with heavy, bulky equipment and positioning patients can lead to repetitive stress injuries and up the odds of sapping your techs’ energy and causing absentees.

The solution is to seek out vendors that have a proven track record for ergonomically designed equipment and automated features and functions.

Consider digital radiography (DR) X-ray room systems. Repetitive equipment movements should be light, smooth and easy. Automation, such as automated tube height tracking, can eliminate a step and having to reposition the X-ray tube when the tech adjusts a table or chest stand to the patient’s height and anatomy. Automation also allows the tech to focus more on attending to the patient and their safety.

Look for solutions built smarter to maximize workflow efficiencies and provide exceptional imaging performance—all while making your techs’ jobs easier. High sensitivity detector and image processing technologies help simplify things by generating exceptional first up images that don’t need adjustments and can prevent retakes from minor mistakes—saving time, stress, and dose for the rad tech and the patient.

Portable X-ray systems designed with both patients and techs in mind can mean speedy, more efficient exams. For example, Fujifilm’s FDR Go PLUS offers small, quiet, light-weight maneuverable imaging in tight spaces and in critical care with a full-size portable machine. In addition,Fujifilm’s FDR AQRO can provide on-demand imaging at one-third the size and with 80 percent less weight, minimizing rad tech fatigue from re-locating a portable machine.

On the job injuries are another stress factor. A 2008 study found that during the process of manipulating patients for appropriate positions, 83 percent of technologists have reported painful or repetitive stress injuries. These injuries can lead to short- and long-term setbacks for your staff and shortages of staff due to call outs.

This can be extremely important in bedside exams where techs can encounter a patient that is difficult to lift when trying to place the detector under them. No one wants to lose grip on the patient or the detector, so having a detector that is as light as possible, such as Fujifilm’s FDR D-EVO II and III, can be a huge help in getting in and out with the right image, safely and easily.

Smart ergonomics that can boost productivity, accuracy, and efficiency, are also important for advanced DR rooms, too. Light, easy, and fully automated robotoic system movements, like those available with Fujifilm’s FDR Visionary Suite, can help techs quickly and accurately get the images they need and focus more time on the patient.

Seek Out Technology that Enhances Safety

Under normal circumstances, techs are routinely required to perform imaging on patients with infectious diseases. Now, add to this the pandemic, and anxieties have escalated to all-time highs for healthcare professionals.

Related Content: Radiologist Wellness and Burnout in the COVID-19 Era

Vendors can help alleviate some of the worry by supplying the safest equipment possible, such as the antibacterial coating included on Fujifilm’s DR detectors and portables. Other smart design elements include sealed surfaces and areas made to be easier to reach into for routine wipe downs with disinfectants.

Exposure to radiation is another safety concern for rad techs. High sensitivity detector and image processing technologies can help dramatically minimize dose without sacrificing image quality. Low-dose technologies not only keep the patient safer, but also protect your radiology staff from routine incidental dose, as well.

Any and all manufacturer solutions that help your staff feel less vulnerable—such as equipment that is easy to wipe down and clean and exposures that are as low as possible—will contribute to easing anxiety and burnout.

Commit to Better Communication

In order to deliver the best possible patient care, rad techs and radiologists must work closely together and be in sync. Traditional ways of communicating about a patient’s exam may require the rad tech to seek out the radiologist in the reading room or elsewhere in the facility, causing delays and stress.

The right PACS can improve this antiquated way of communicating. A server-side technology, like Fujifilm’s Synapse PACS, boosts efficiency and helps techs avoid burnout. It features a chat function that allows techs to communicate with radiologists when images are ready to be reviewed or when a patient is ready for an exam without leaving the patient.

Smooth communication means less time and energy expended by techs and more efficient workflow—easing tensions for rad techs and keeping everyone productive.

Make Training a Top Priority

Imaging technology is continually evolving and new innovations can be intimidating even to the most seasoned technologist. Changes in technology in the radiology department and an emphasis on multitasking can lead to additional stress and burnout, along with the potential for errors.

Moreover, imaging directors need to ensure their techs are confident in leveraging new technologies on hand. Insecurity can cause undue anxiety. Organizations need to take the time to enhance confidence levels of their rad techs when it comes to mastering various modalities. It’s vital to have an action plan in place for refresher trainings and to train new staff as they onboard. Refresher trainings can be extremely valuable for even the most seasoned staff, alerting them to easier, faster, more accurate ways of doing things and introducing latest updates.

Another important way to enhance technologists’ confidence of course is to ensure they have equipment that is consistently reliable, easy to use and allows them to quickly get the right images physicians are seeking. Equipment with a proven track record for intuitive usability and reliability is critical to boosting staff efficiency and confidence while reducing stress.

Anxiety can also arise when techs don’t believe they have proper training in a particular area or modality. For example, if a rad tech who was never trained in computed tomography (CT) is asked to perform a CT scan to fill in during a staff shortage, chances are that rad tech will be pretty uneasy. Physicians have high expectations that techs will perform every exam safely and accurately. However, stress becomes an issue when roles conflict and the unexpected happens.

The right training is imperative if a tech is to do his or her job properly. Vendors play a critical role in training rad techs on their equipment. It is vitally important to seek out manufacturers with a proven reputation for providing solid training and strong customer service. You want to work with a company that is just as committed to training your team as you are, and will provide the resources you need 24/7/365.

Keep Your Greatest Asset Strong

Whether you run an imaging center, a radiology practice or a hospital radiology department, your people are your greatest asset. Rad techs perform millions of imaging exams every year in the United States, many of which are ultimately lifesaving scans. A very high percentage of hospital visits from injuries to infectious diseases, routinely encounter radiology imaging.

Clinicians and radiologists rely on skilled, professional techs to capture the images they need in order to accurately diagnose and treat patients. Reliability, accuracy, safety, and speed are critical in this equation.

It is the industry's duty—both imaging providers and vendors—to assist in combating rad tech burnout so experienced techs thrive and promising new candidates continue to enter the field. Together, we can keep the rad tech community going strong.

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