Communication with referring physicians is essential in radiology, but it often becomes stressful and frustrating for radiologists when they struggle to track down the right person. This can lead to workflow delays that chip away at various quality metrics and have a negative impact on patient care.
In a recent case study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, Eduardo J. Matta, MD, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and colleagues worked to improve communication between radiologists and referring physicians by implementing a new, PACS-based software solution.
But first, a bit of background: At the University of Texas Health Center at Houston, an automated system was put in place to help specialists communicate with referring physicians. It sounded great in theory, but radiologists quickly found it to be problematic for several reasons. Contact information in the physician catalog was not always accurate, for instance, and it was based on a computer separate from their PACS workstation. To correct this issue once and for all, the researchers started over. They still needed a software solution, but they had to plan ahead to avoid running into the same issues.
The plan of action began with the formation of a multidisciplinary team, which met every other week before the new software was installed. The team decided that their new software would need a brand new catalog of updated physician contact information—one that could easily be updated when necessary—and a new workflow was formed based on information taken from team meetings and staff surveys. In addition, the software would track all interactions, radiologists would be trained extensively on how to use the software, and, perhaps most importantly, its interface would occur from within the PACS workstation.
So how did this PACS-based communication tool do? Quite well, it turns out. Here are three key ways that the team’s new software improved communication between radiologists and referring physicians:
1. More critical phone calls are now being placed. The number of critical phone calls placed by radiologists to referring physicians almost tripled after less than six months of training on the new software, going from 12.2 critical calls per month to 34.1.
2. More nonurgent phone calls are now being placed. In the years since the software was implemented, a significant increase was also found in the number of nonurgent phone calls being placed to referring physicians. This information was often left for referring physicians to read themselves in the past, but now that radiologists can find the right person much easier, they are more likely to place an extra phone call and share it in a quick conversation.
“Now that this new process is in place, radiologists frequently call to discuss issues that may not be urgent but that still benefit from more immediate or direct communication,” the authors wrote. “This not only improves the timeliness of care but also allows better, more nuanced interpretations.”
3. Satisfaction is up, up, up. Since this new software was implemented, referring physician satisfaction with radiologist communication and radiologist availability have increased each year. In March 2013, before the PACS-based tool was live, satisfaction with radiologist communication was 3.38 (out of 4). After implementation in April 2013, that number increased in 2014 (3.55) and in 2015 (3.65). Likewise, satisfaction with radiologist availability was 3.4 in March 2013. That number increased in 2014 (3.53) and 2015 (3.71).