Teleradiology's role in operational efficiency, precision diagnosis and accessible care: 5 Qs with Philips CMO Dr. Chip Truwit

As the nation's healthcare providers and other industry stakeholders work to improve care delivery and achieve the promise of more personalized, effective clinical care through precision medicine, teleradiology has emerged as an offering that can help hospitals and health systems further both aims.

Recently, Philips CMO of diagnostic imaging spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about the growing teleradiology market, the role of virtual care in reducing burnout and the clinical use of artificial intelligence in teleradiology.

Question: The global teleradiology market is among the fastest growing segments in the radiology and the clinical services outsourcing market, can you tell us why teleradiology services are gaining more awareness and traction with healthcare C-suite leaders today?

Chip Truwit: Teleradiology has been around for a while but with advanced technological capabilities it's having a resurgence of sorts in terms of awareness and criticality in today's healthcare environment. The teleradiology market is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2017 to $21.8 billion by 2026, according to a 2018 teleradiology services study by Transparency Market Research. The research points to numerous contributing factors driving the increasing need for radiologic expertise. However, one of the biggest issues can be how the lack of availability of timely diagnostic services creates bottlenecks for clinicians during emergencies and especially during the off hours which can impact turnaround times and the quality of care.

Last year, Philips partnered with Direct Radiology because of a shared vision about the essential role teleradiology plays in image interpretation and recognition that the number of radiologists is not growing as quickly as the growing need for radiology services across the globe. Teleradiology helps hospital leaders address this increasing shortage of radiologists and, more importantly, improves access to experts that can offer a precise diagnosis enabling optimal treatment to patients via their local caregivers wherever they are. C-suite healthcare leaders increasingly view teleradiology as a key enabler to optimally leverage available resources, to improve both speed and accuracy of image interpretation, and to set organizations up to embrace telehealth solutions for their patients.

Q: Improving operational performance is certainly top of mind with healthcare C-suite leaders, how can teleradiology improve efficiencies?

CT: As hospitals are more resource and labor constrained than ever before, C-suite leaders and heads of radiology are increasingly seeking outsourced solutions that help them become more efficient or adaptable to unpredictable volume swings. Outsourced off-site teleradiology support improves efficiency for hospitals because it enables faster turnaround times and offers subspecialty radiology access at all hours of the day and night. Departments thus can manage more cases and/or unpredictable volume swings more readily and can ensure subspecialty coverage 24/7/365 for both emergent and nonemergent cases. Teleradiology also allows hospitals with one generalist or one specialist staffed at night to leverage radiologists in other time zones. In addition, teleradiology services can offer more robust disaster-proof reliability as well as advanced viewing and reporting capabilities. And, today's teleradiology solutions are commonly well integrated with the on-site imaging staff such that there is no noticeable difference in workflow at change of shift.

Q: Beyond addressing radiologist shortages, how can teleradiology improve the radiologist experience itself and alleviate some of the issues we see around radiologist stress and burnout?

CT: Staff satisfaction and improving the staff experience are priorities for every C-suite leader in line with the goals of the Quadruple Aim. You are correct that radiologist burnout is a prevalent issue. In fact, as noted in a recent Medscape Radiologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout 2019 report, about 45 percent of radiologist respondents felt burned out. In the Medscape survey, key factors that contributed to radiologist burnout were "lack of control or autonomy" (32 percent) and "too many bureaucratic tasks" (28 percent).

These are a few of the key reasons Philips has partnered with Direct Radiology. Additionally, Philips sought to provide a teleradiology solution that was designed by radiologists for radiologists and, as a neuroradiologist myself, I understand the importance of this — finding ways to make the radiologist's job easier, not harder. It helps keep radiologists laser-focused on their unique skills and ensures they are practicing at the top of their license by eliminating extraneous administrative distractions. Such distracting logistical or administrative duties can include things such a relaying findings to clinical MDs; supporting with screening calls; or resolving issues like missing image reconstructions and reformations. The Direct Radiology teleradiology platform also creates a tailored environment for the radiologist with numerous personalization features such as customized devices and the flexibility to define his or her own schedule to achieve better work/life balance.

Q: Why is teleradiology well suited for artificial intelligence?

CT: Teleradiology companies already have significant IT and cloud-based infrastructures designed for fast image transfer and reporting, a set-up which is far more scalable and amenable to AI deployment than multiple local installs. But, more importantly, when hospitals utilize outsourced teleradiology services they gain access to more clinically useful and statistically powerful data because teleradiology companies handle a vast array of images from greater geographic regions than single-site hospitals. This creates a powerful data feedback loop which offers significant business benefits for the C-suite. With the ability to be supported in the cloud, speed workflows, and rapidly consolidate data, AI-powered teleradiology can bring the expertise of the radiologist who is skilled in one particular type of complex imaging reading to a patient in a rural area who otherwise might have limited access to such a subspecialty radiologist. So, we see how it can improve not only the access to care but teleradiology can actually elevate the standard of care and that's really powerful as we strive to improve the quality of healthcare for all.

Q: What does the future hold for teleradiology and how is Philips working with customers to facilitate solutions?

Innovative teleradiology services are expected to be a sizable part of the imaging interpretation market within the next few years. In the short-term, teleradiology will provide a strong platform for future growth in telehealth by helping providers achieve a more precise diagnosis for patients and help us reach the ultimate goal of precision medicine. In the long-term, the clinical services outsourcing business model will likely shift from being used mostly for off-hours, subspecialty areas, or individual imaging remote procedures to enabling a 24/7 connected, comprehensive and cost-effective global virtual radiology approach that will transform the delivery of care.

Philips' teleradiology services will build on the acquisition of the teleradiology platform Direct Radiology, along with our IT infrastructure for advanced telehealth solutions to improve collaboration among clinical care teams with our HealthSuite Digital Platform, and our cloud-based radiology informatics portfolio. Philips has done a lot to try to dismantle the barriers to telehealth adoption in general. A key example of this would be Philips' relationship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Project Atlas to enable the telehealth services to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to veterans who live in rural areas. Project Atlas has helped the VA achieve more than 1 million telehealth visits last year with 94 percent of veterans being satisfied with their virtual care visit. In addition, Philips is partnering with companies such as Digital Health China to deliver a secure cloud-based platform for tele-radiology applications that will help improve the access and quality of care in China.

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