ACR CEO William T. Thorwarth, Jr, MD: Apathy is radiology’s greatest threat

On April 14, 2014, William T. Thorwarth, Jr, MD, left behind 30 years of clinical practice with Catawba Radiological Associates to officially take the reins of the American College of Radiology. During those 30 years, Thorwarth built a secondary expertise in healthcare economics, serving as chair of the ACR Commission on Economics from 1999 to 2004, president of the ACR from 2003 to 2004 and chair of the American Medical Association Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Editorial Panel from 2007 to 2011, the first radiologist to hold that position. He also has served in many volunteer positions with the Radiological Society of North America, most recently as Board of Directors Liaison for Publications and Communications.

As Thorwarth’s first 90 days drew to a conclusion, spent 10 minutes on the telephone with him to get a sense of the new leader’s agenda and how he passed the first 90 days. How did you spend your first 90 days as CEO of the ACR?

Thorwarth: Because I had not been specifically working with the College since I finished my term as president in 2004, a lot of the first couple of months was spent learning what is new and becoming completely familiar with what is a remarkably broad, far-reaching and complex organization. I didn’t intend to come in here and change things in an organization that I think already serves our membership very well.

Just prior to my arrival, the ACR board leadership had elected to begin a strategic planning process. The first several months following the annual meeting have been focused on trying to facilitate that and making sure that we are attendant on each segment of the broad constituency that we represent and making sure that our relationships with all of the other organizations in the radiology community are preserved. That strategic planning continues to go on, and I think it will be really exciting for the College to apply that plan to existing and potential new initiatives. My background, as far as day job, was just under 30 years of clinical practice in what I call an intermediate-size group of 18 in North Carolina. In that structure, we faced a lot of the challenges that many of our radiologists have faced over the last several decades. That is, how you maintain good, common, patient-centered service, and (at the same time) remain responsive to our referring physicians with the degree of subspecialization that is appropriate in your respective community. In your opinion, what is the greatest threat facing radiology?

Thorwarth: My biggest concern is apathy. Radiologists have been very fortunate over the last several decades, and the profession has flourished with the development and evolution of new modalities, our ever-expanding ability to utilize those in clinical practice and the promotion of research for further development.

There, then, developed a level of expectation that this is going to continue without the need to be accountable for documenting the quality and value the clinical care that we deliver and accountable, also, to the future of the profession, by making sure we continue to support that research and development.

I do think that it’s very important that radiologists not take that for granted. It’s really important that, through the professional organizations and their individual practices, they work to preserve our critical position in healthcare and not think that it’s going to continue without those efforts.

My second concern is that particularly with the current radiology resident and fellow job market, though by recent surveys there are projected jobs for residents and fellows, it’s not quite as flexible as it was a decade ago. My concern is that in the medical student ranks this does not sour their perception of what is one of the most exciting and vital medical specialties with an excellent future. We want to make sure that we continue to attract talented medical students into the specialty, as that’s really where our future lies. If you could recommend just one thing that radiologists could do to prepare for the future, what would that be, and why?

Thorwarth: The most important thing for radiologists to do is to get involved and stay involved, both in their medical communities and medical organizations (state and national radiology societies or state medical societies), and also in their general communities, being seen as a resource in your medical community.

If you are seen as nothing more than a utility or a commodity, I don’t think that’s going to serve you or the specialty well. That includes staying current with ongoing programs, like the Imaging 3.0™ campaign that the ACR has developed to try to be a roadmap to the future of radiologic practice, and the Radiology Cares® campaign that the RSNA has promoted to make sure that we all concentrate on practicing patient-centered radiology.