RSNA 2017 Q&A: President Richard L. Ehman on machine learning and why radiologists must help the specialty evolve

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) is once again gearing up for its annual meeting at McCormick Place in the beautiful city of Chicago. What does RSNA have in store for attendees this year? Richard L. Ehman, MD, president of the RSNA Board of Directors, gave us a sneak peek.

Ehman, a professor of radiology and Blanche R. & Richard J. Erlanger Professor of Medical Research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., previewed RSNA 2017 and reviewed some of the biggest issues affecting medical imaging today.

Looking over the radiology landscape in 2017, what do you think some of the biggest stories of the year have been so far? What subjects and trends have you been paying extra close attention to this year?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to be subjects of huge interest among the radiology community. These technologies have been around for a long time, but the emergence of widely available tools to implement them has led to an explosion of potential applications. We will continue to see rapid advances in these areas well into the future. We’ll be highlighting machine learning in a number of ways at RSNA 2017.

The intersection of medical imaging and 3D printing also continues to be a hot topic, with growing clinical impact in surgical planning, treatment and education. RSNA recognizes the value this technology brings to medical care and has established a special interest group to advance and promote high-quality application of these technologies via education, collaboration and research.

What is a big issue or problem you hear about from other RSNA members? What’s keeping them from providing the best patient care possible?

There has been a gradual trend towards capitated and bundled payment models for healthcare. Yet, in many ways, the current practice of radiology has been designed and optimized around fee-for-service. We need to reinvent the way we practice radiology. Extraordinary innovations in medical imaging have steadily advanced diagnostic performance, quality and safety. However, as medical delivery systems reorganize to address escalating costs, the radiology community needs to innovate to maximize value.

What do you think RSNA and other imaging societies can do to maximize value?

There are huge opportunities for our community to reinvent radiology practices in response to this challenge. Strategies like lean engineering will be important, but radiology also can use targeted research and development to provide value-inspired technology innovations. It is critical that RSNA and other imaging societies provide members with the education, tools and support to successfully navigate the changing tide.

Earlier this year, the RSNA Research & Education Foundation announced that it will be funding a total of $4 million in grants this year. What is the importance of funding radiologic research and educational initiatives?

Radiologic research and education have important clinical implications, and medical imaging has demonstrated a very high ROI in research and development with new inventions that create substantial downstream economic impact. In fostering radiologic research and education, RSNA and the Research & Education Foundation ensure continued innovation in radiology and increase awareness of the contributions radiology makes to patient care.

In addition to Research & Education Foundation grants to help establish the careers of talented young investigators, RSNA provides a vast catalog of educational programming. RSNA is also the largest supporter of the Academy for Radiology & Biomedical Imaging Research, which advocates for funding medical imaging research and has provided policymakers and legislators with strong evidence of ROI for investments in imaging research at the federal level.

What can attendees headed to Chicago expect from RSNA 2017? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about this year?

Attendees can expect the same high-quality and diverse research and education opportunities that RSNA provides each year with some notable additions. We’ll have “Hot Topic” education sessions focusing on 3D printing and Alzheimer’s disease. Also, we’re launching a crowd-sourced Fast 5 session with five speakers each taking five minutes to speak on topics related to the meeting’s theme of, “Explore. Invent. Transform.”

In addition, we have an outstanding lineup of plenary speakers. Naturally, I’m looking forward to giving the President’s Address: “Is It Time to Reinvent Radiology?”

RSNA 2017 will once again feature a Virtual Meeting option, which provides access to a significant amount of online content for individuals who can’t make it in person. What has the reaction been to these online options? Why is it so important to offer this additional content?

It has been very popular. For people who cannot attend or can only attend for a limited time, it provides a valuable option, particularly in opportunities for continuing education. We are expanding the Virtual Meeting this year with even more content and more opportunities to earn CME on demand through February 2018.

Artificial intelligence is the subject of two different RSNA/AAPM symposiums at RSNA 2017. What kind of impact do you see AI and deep learning technologies having on radiology 10 or 15 years from now?

Artificial intelligence and deep learning will have a dramatic impact on radiology. Radiologists can utilize the data gathering and analysis capabilities of these technologies in a multitude of applications to assist in diagnosis and management. These technologies will allow radiologists to improve workflow and increase efficiency.