To thrive in today’s turbulent environment, radiologists must embrace technology

Radiologists, like other healthcare professionals, are experiencing profound burnout. A major contributor is the constant stream of disruptions that punctuate their days and interrupt the work of interpreting studies for referring physicians and their patients.

Becker’s Hospital Review recently spoke with Dhruv Chopra, CEO of Collaborative Imaging, about the workflow challenges facing both radiologists and referring physicians. He shared how thoughtfully designed technology solutions can streamline clinician interactions, increase efficiency and improve patient care.

Workflow disruptions are a productivity killer for radiologists

Radiologists’ computer monitors are often framed by myriad Post-It notes with reminders about studies that are missing paperwork or prior authorizations, referring physicians who need to be called or previous patient reports that are required to interpret a current study.

On top of the phone calls and faxes to referring physicians, it’s common for referring physicians to walk into radiologists’ offices unannounced to talk about a case. In this scenario, radiologists must close the study they were reviewing and pull up the relevant patient information. When the referring physician leaves, the radiologist can then resume work on the other study.

All of this task-switching takes a toll on radiologists’ productivity. “Radiologists are trained to interpret studies, yet they are bombarded by distractions,” Mr. Chopra said. “They are so used to interruptions they don’t even realize the impact on their output. One reason we see so much burnout among radiologists is that they are doing so many things that are unrelated to interpreting studies.”

Although different companies have developed technology-based solutions to help address these issues, for the most part these solutions haven’t been widely adopted. “We’ve found that most products require radiologists and referring physicians to change their behavior,” Mr. Chopra said. “That’s one reason why we created our own suite of solutions at Collaborative Imaging. We think products should adapt to clinicians’ behavior, not the other way around,”

Collaborative Imaging leverages automation to eliminate friction in physician workflows

Wherever possible and whatever the inefficiencies are, Collaborative Imaging strives to eliminate them with innovative technological solutions. “We don’t send a study to the radiologist until we know it’s complete,” Mr. Chopra said. “If a study requires a prior authorization, we notify the technologist in real time. We also notify radiologists about incomplete studies in the queue.”

Once a radiologist has interpreted a study, the Collaborative Imaging system immediately sends the report to the referring physician based on his or her preferences. For instance, some physicians prefer secure text messages rather than phone calls.

“Since our system has logging, we know when messages and reports are delivered to physicians and we know that they received information using the medium that they want,” Mr. Chopra said. “All of that knowledge is built into the solution.”

Automated routing of radiology reports also speeds peer review of studies, since work can happen in real time. As soon as a physician signs off on a report, it is sent to another physician to examine. Based on their findings, patient care can begin as quickly as possible. “We are really trying to streamline processes and allow radiologists to do what they’re trained to do and what they want to do, which is interpreting studies,” Mr. Chopra said.

Thanks to AI and data science, one-size-fits-all solutions are no longer the norm for radiologists and referring physicians

To enhance efficiency for radiologists, Collaborative Imaging has developed its own speech recognition and voice-to-text solutions that are fully integrated into its solution. “Some radiologists like to use macros when dictating reports, so we’ve built that in,” Mr. Chopra said. “When they say a particular thing, it explodes to larger text. Other radiologists prefer to dictate everything, and we support that as well.”

For referring physicians, Collaborative Imaging also utilizes AI and data science to tailor the content and format of radiology reports to each physician’s unique preferences. “In our product, physicians can rate radiology reports, similar to how you would rate a restaurant on Yelp,” Mr. Chopra explained. “We want to understand what referring physicians liked or didn’t like about a report. Some like lengthy reports, while others like short reports. Some want a tremendous amount of detail in one particular area. We learn from their feedback and tailor reports to their specific preferences. 

Integration and interoperability enhance efficiency throughout the patient lifecycle

Technology has become pervasive in healthcare. As a result, interoperability between systems is essential. Collaborative Imaging integrates with solutions used at every step of the patient journey, from scheduling through to payment. “

On the scheduling side, we ensure the right radiology exams are ordered and performed,” Mr. Chopra said. “The referring physician doesn’t need to call the radiologist to ask what exam to order for a particular study. We provide that to them at their fingertips. We also have built-in logic, so technologists know what protocol to use when performing an exam.”

Collaborative Imaging has also applied both integration and intelligence to the revenue cycle side of the equation. Radiologists can immediately see whether exams meet the criteria outlined in different insurance companies’ policies and procedures.

“Perhaps the radiologist needs to provide additional context or mention a specific body part,” Mr. Chopra said. “We’ve built that intelligence into our system and it’s applied in real time. So, coding teams don’t send reports back to radiologists saying that they didn’t mention the gallbladder or there’s a conflict in what they dictated.”

Interoperability and customization of workflows extend to the patient experience, as well. As soon as a radiologist signs off on a report, patients can be notified that their report is ready to view in the portal. This process can be tailored, however, so patients don’t access their reports until the referring physician has had an opportunity to review them. This prevents patient phone calls that physicians aren’t yet prepared to take.

“The technology we’ve developed is focused on today’s top priorities which include reducing costs, improving overall efficiency and improving revenue for radiologists, referring physicians and other key stakeholders,” Mr. Chopra said. “In addition to creating solutions for radiology, we’ve applied our technology to emergency medicine, neurology, anesthesia, pathology and more. We continue to expand into different areas. Our solutions are so capable and versatile that it’s easy to adjust them to the unique needs of different specialties.”

Technology will never replace physicians

Technologies like data science and AI are becoming much more common in healthcare due to key drivers like physician shortages, the increasing power of insurance companies and continued decreases in reimbursements.

“If you look at the radiology industry as a whole, more physicians are leaving than are coming in,” Mr. Chopra said. “The newcomers are very different from the prior generation. Many are looking for different compensation structures and some don’t like partnership models. This will force the further evolution of the sector. I think technology will be a key determinant moving forward. As much as technology advances, however, it will never replace the physician.”

Even though the radiology industry is experiencing considerable upheaval, the future looks bright for groups that embrace the change. According to Mr. Chopra, “The practices that are flourishing are those that are thinking strategically about what they can do. They are becoming part of the change process and figuring out how to be one step better. It’s a matter of being flexible, open minded, and thinking about everything differently. Technology has made a seismic shift and I’m excited about the future of radiology and the practice of medicine.”

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