Are we losing touch with the 'human side’ of radiology?

It’s the hottest topic in radiology right now: What kind of impact will artificial intelligence and machine learning have on the specialty’s future? According to a recent opinion piece published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, imaging leaders should start worrying less about robots replacing radiologists and more about why radiologists are being treated as if they are already robots.

For example, the authors explained, many radiologists are isolated from others, robbing them of interaction with colleagues. In addition, a radiologist’s productivity is often monitored around the clock, like something out of a George Orwell novel.

“Radiologists are being transformed into what Marx called ‘the means of production,’ and the metrics used to assess radiologic practice are becoming increasingly mechanical,” wrote lead author Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues. “Turnaround times, productivity, and revenue generation have become the coin of the realm, in comparison to which the human side of radiology practice—building relationships—is often neglected and even discouraged. As mechanization breeds increasing dehumanization, how will radiologists find meaning in their work?”

Gunderman et al. listed two things that need to change to “turn the tide of radiology’s mechanization.” First, they said, more attention must be paid to “the needs and abilities of the bright and dedicated people who are doing the work of radiology right now.” Reduce their more mundane daily work, for example, so that they can focus more on their patients.

The authors said the other big step is including radiologists in decision making. By giving them control of their own destiny and keeping them well informed, they will be more likely to innovate and find new ways to provide high-quality care.

“To optimize the engagement of radiologists and inspire their ambition and hope for the future, radiologists need to foresee opportunities to improve patient care, advance knowledge, and educate future physicians,” the authors concluded. “Instead of trying to turn radiologists into machines, we should be summoning their highest human excellences.”