3 reasons radiology’s potential to impact patient care should not be underestimated

A recent analysis published in Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology contains a message radiologists will be happy to read: The field of radiology is in a unique position to enhance patient experience and improve patient care overall. It might seem like radiologists are at a disadvantage when it comes to affecting patient experience, the authors explained, but that is actually far from the truth.

“Although forging meaningful change in patient experience may at first glance seem unrealistic in the context of the diagnostic radiologist’s workflow, opportunities to innovate in this realm abound,” wrote Anand M. Prabhakar, MD, MBA, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues. “For several reasons, radiologists are better positioned to seize these opportunities than is readily apparent. In doing so, they can positively impact the evolution of care delivery in the field while ensuring appropriate reimbursement for their services as the health care climate evolves.”

The authors present a number of reasons why this is the case:

1. Radiology touches a majority of patients

Evidence of radiology’s “enormous potential scale of impact for improvements in patient experience” can be seen in the fact that it comes into contact with practically every patient who receives care.

“Each of the several hundred million radiologic examinations performed annually in the United States represents a patient encounter with multiple discrete phases amenable to modification,” the authors wrote.

This means that imaging leaders have a lot of data to work with when it comes to making improvements to patient experience. For example, do you notice that exam scheduling is causing a bottleneck? You can improve patient experience by correcting that through quality improvement projects. Prabhakar et al. added that this isn’t just about radiologists; technologists also play a crucial role in patient care and they can improve the patient experience by simply being friendly or explaining what is happening to the patient.

2. Radiology has a history of leading the way with innovation

Radiology has a reputation for adopting change early. “With the implementation of computerized radiology information systems in the 1980s, picture archiving and communications systems in the 1990s, and automated speech recognition software shortly thereafter, radiologists leveraged digital technology long before their clinical colleagues did so with electronic medical records,” the authors wrote.

Can the specialty do it again? Radiologists are already involved in the development and implementation of patient portals and working closely with AI technologies, so it certainly seems things are on the right track.

3. Radiologists have a lot of knowledge they can share with patients

The authors noted that radiologists are “ideally positioned” to provide context to patients about various findings. In addition, subspecialty radiologists can assist with selecting appropriate follow-up imaging, using their expertise to ensure that screening standards are followed at all times.

“Innovative patient engagement mechanisms such as the creation of a diagnostic radiology consultation clinic have thus far been well received by patients and referring providers in pilot studies,” the authors wrote. “In addition to giving patients direct access to imaging experts, models such as the consultation clinic or virtual patient encounters could ease the burden on referring physicians and appropriately delegate to radiologists the task of explaining technically complex results or incidental findings.”