Today’s radiology departments are under pressure like never before. Steadily growing patient volumes, a rapid rise in the number of images generated, and increasingly complex image reviews are straining departments to their limits. What’s more, departments are facing these challenges as they attempt to keep up with demands for more imaging service lines due to rapid advancements in disease management.
Alain Luciani, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology at the University Paris Est Creteil (UPEC) and a radiologist at the University Hospital Henri Mondor in Paris, believes that high-quality radiology services form the backbone of the entire healthcare journey.
“Radiology is at the center of managing patients. It's at the center of diagnostics combined with biology. It’s closely tied to surgical departments, interventional radiology, intensive care units, and the emergency department. Radiology is at the center of the management, and it has to be the center of how you design healthcare,” he says.
Johan De Mey, MD, PhD, a head of the radiology department at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel in Belgium, says keeping up with technology while balancing training needs and implementation logistics are the keys to getting ahead in radiology today.
“One of the biggest challenges is trying to stay at the edge of technology. But if you go too fast, you’ll lose the nurses and technologists around you. You can’t be a clinically excellent doctor if the people around you aren’t able to work with the technology. But if you don’t go fast enough, you won’t be able to treat your patients in the best way you can,” he explains.
Keeping up with the pace of innovation
Twenty years ago, new CT technologies were introduced every four to five years. Today, the pace of innovation has been accelerated by modern engineering, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing. Because of these advancements, CT technology is becoming obsolete more quickly than before. If a health system chooses a technology that can’t be upgraded and scaled, their ability to provide the best patient care and compete in the marketplace could be significantly hampered.
“The biggest change over the last 20 years is the number of images and amount of data that has dramatically increased,” explains Dr. Luciani. “In this digital era, images are not only providing morphological images, but they are also providing quantitative data to impact patient care. And of course, that paved the way to all the artificial intelligence evolution that we see today in our current practice in radiology.”
Dr. Luciani’s radiology department focuses on investing in high-end technology that offers benefits to technologists, radiologists and patients.
“We want to provide the best experience for our patients with the best equipment so we can have the best radiologists using that equipment, which will only benefit patients,” he explains. “High-end equipment must be attractive to the doctors, to the technicians and then the patients.”
He notes that his department estimates a 10-year life cycle for CT machines. Keeping those CT systems not just functional, but cutting-edge, through software updates and hardware upgrades is part of the facility’s strategic plan to maximize use of each CT scanner.
“Over those 10 years, how can we help those systems evolve? How can we anticipate the changes and make sure that the clinical needs are met over the entire lifespan of the system? This is a very tough question,” he says.
On average, a CT system is eight years old before it’s replaced, with software and application updates occurring four times per year. But this high frequency of updates is a challenge and one of the main drivers of facilities not keeping systems up to date, with 44% expressing challenges keeping CT systems up-to-date.
Radiologist burnout is on the rise
However, it’s not only radiology departments under intense pressure. Among radiologists, there’s growing demand to stay ahead of the technology curve, without losing sight of delivering high-quality patient care. Radiologists are burdened by the pressure to deliver confident diagnoses, even in the most challenging cases. These challenges have only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s not surprising that radiologists are coping with high levels of stress and burnout within their ranks.
For technologists, they’re juggling heavy patient loads and the demand for high-quality images. Add the learning curve of operating machines from multiple manufacturers with different user interfaces, and it’s a challenging combination that threatens their workflow and patient throughput. They need intelligent automation and consistency in their workflow so they can maximize throughput and deliver excellent care to every patient.
Administrators are concerned with establishing and managing a fleet of CT scanners that can meet a range of diagnostic needs – without maxing out budgets or leading to low utilization rates. They understand the challenges in training staff on non-standardized user interfaces, especially as healthcare organizations across the country struggle with staff shortages. They need systems that support quality control, operational efficiency and budgetary responsibility for today and tomorrow.
For Luis Rios, director of imaging services for Baptist Hospital of Miami, the challenges in CT are effectively and consistently managing a wide range of cardiac patients.
“How can we optimize workflow when there’s variability in the type of patients that we see? We need to be creative and challenge our team to find ways that will help us minimize that variability between patients,” he says.
His other challenge is efficiently moving patients through the ED, from admission to discharge or admittance. “Everything is time sensitive, and our ability to get the patients where they need to go, whether that’s discharge, the cath lab or surgery, depends on imaging,” he says.
William Gilmour, clinical specialist for Baptist Health in Miami, has worked in radiology for 30 years, and has seen the progression of technology from single-slice scanners to 256-slice scanners. “I love patient care, but I also love technology. I love the changes that have come with the years, but the protocols have become very complex.”
Now he’s trying to minimize that complexity by implementing consistent protocols, procedures and policies across the entire Baptist Health system, which includes 11 hospitals and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“When we image with the same protocols, we're delivering the same images with the same exposures to radiologists so when they compare exams, they're comparing apples to apples,” he says.
Facilities depend on their CT scanners to deliver cutting-edge technology with optimized clinical capabilities. Speed and efficiency are critical to managing growing patient loads with consistent, high-quality results. Adding new CT functionality by updating hardware and software needs to be strategically handled in a cost-effective way. And through it all, they need to future-proof their CT investment with technology that will put them ahead of the technology curve now – and keep them there tomorrow.
“Having the ability to extend the life of a CT scanner through scalability would be huge benefit,” says Rios. “If we have a technology that we can upgrade to be faster to help a faster throughput, with the ability to meet the demand of additional specialties, I think it's a win for the organization.”The GE Healthcare Experience is live! Your one-stop source for all information about GE Healthcare at RSNA 2021, from news, webinars, live broadcasts and more than 60 new products. Get your GE Digital Pass now! https://gehealthcare.smh.re/0K7