RSNA 2017: Ehman stresses innovation, invention in radiology in opening remarks

In his opening address at RSNA 2017 in Chicago, Richard Ehman, MD, encouraged attendees to continue to support the culture of innovation and invention, with the ultimate goal of transforming radiology to better serve patients.

“Each of you, as members of the global community of radiology, have the chance to participate in a remarkable ongoing story of invention and reinvention,” said Ehman, president of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and a professor of radiology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Ehman reflected on how rapidly innovation has occurred in radiology and health imaging. Just decades ago, the chief diagnostic option for epidural hematoma would have been burr holes—holes drilled in the skull to check for pools of blood—a method used 8,000 years ago.

Today, through invention and innovation, diagnosing a potentially deadly epidural hematoma is completed using computed tomography (CT), a much more precise—and less painful—technique.

“And there are a host of similar examples where our expanding medical imaging capabilities have changed patient care so profoundly that most physicians can’t imagine practicing without them,” Ehman said.

According to Ehman, the characteristics that make invention and innovation so successful within the practice of radiology include:

  • Teamwork: Medical imaging advances have almost always been the product of teamwork involving not just biomedical science, but also physics, mathematics, and engineering.
  • Rapid translation: It takes an average of 12 years for a pharmaceutical drug to go from laboratory to medicine cabinet. Ehman noted radiography was adopted within months of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discover of x-rays. Fully functional CT systems were used for patient care within four years of the building and testing of the first crude prototype for CT scanning.
  • Use-inspired strategy: Researchers in radiology have been driven by applied science—solving practical problems and not just basic science. Fundamental research, irrespective of practical application, will lead to new insights that will eventually be useful. Ehman added radiologists are currently capable of combining basic and applied science for better research.
  • Return on investment: The Manhattan Institute reported that each dollar invested in National Institutes of Health research yields a downstream impact of nearly $6. The National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the NIH yields a downstream impact of $33 for every dollar spent on research.

Still, as Ehman marked, radiology has a long way to go before the industry taps its full potential, which can be achieved by innovation that optimizes value. In addition, the industry will have to adapt and embrace disruption, as to not become a victim of it, as the telephone, computer and camera industries have experienced in the past.

“Surely it is now time for radiology to be proactive in adopting innovations that enhance value even if they disrupt the traditional fee-for-service model, Ehman said. “These innovations—such as machine learning, a hot topic this year, highly focused protocols and value-focused re-engineering—may allow us to use our most powerful diagnostic tools more proactively and effectively for the benefit of patients in a new world of population-based care.”