Rads to the rescue: Why imaging should lead the way in healthcare reform

“The ones who are least able and qualified to manage health information and share it have been given the responsibility of transporting and communicating health history across all areas of delivery. The patient has been given the most difficult tasks in healthcare: being a system interface,” according to a perspective in the April issue of Journal of American College of Radiology.

Michael A. Franklin, BSHS, MSHA, RT(R), CEO of Atlantic General Hospital/Health System in Bethesda, Md., proposed that radiologists are ideally positioned to take the lead in healthcare delivery reform.

Franklin cited the central role of imaging in healthcare decision making and noted the specialty’s depth of experience with integrating informatics into clinical operations.  Examples, which radiologists may take for granted but that offer rich lessons for colleagues, include PACS, RIS, teleradiology/telemedicine and clinical decision support.

The integration of CAD and standardized reporting in mammography, in particular, according to Franklin, provides a model of integration of IT, clinical information and physician decision making and reporting.

As additional proof, Franklin detailed radiologists’ “unique operation integration” with hospitals. That is, they are hospital-based specialists who provide an inherent function of the hospital, which covers both image interpretation and image management. Radiologists also provide critical insights into equipment purchases as well as the development of medical imaging policies and protocols.

Thus, radiologists and hospitals are uniquely interdependent and focused on improving best-practices standards. “This relationship also makes clear the need for hospitals, radiologists and IT developers to create systems that enable the gathering of clear, reliable clinical data for the evaluation and improvement of patient care in our communities.”

One model for and pathway toward expanded leadership is peer review and quality assurance, offered Franklin. Focused professional practice evaluation addresses external validation of individual performance while ongoing professional practice evaluation “is a continuous process, defined by the medical staff, for collecting data on every practitioner to facilitate the ongoing evaluation of the professional practice.”

The maturity of imaging informatics systems and their capability to collect and disseminate relevant data for quality assurance provides radiologists “a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership in this area,” wrote Franklin.

Finally, Franklin pointed to an oft-ignored aspect of consumerism. Specifically, it applies to referring physician customers as well as patients. Scheduling imaging exams and results reporting are central to radiologists meeting the needs of clinical customers. Franklin called for a patient-centric solution to standardize sharing of clinical data among all providers involved in the care of patients, which can be accomplished by leveraging IT.

“Medical imaging and the use of diagnostic information is a foundational element of healthcare of the past and the future. Building on effective care delivery designs, such as the state-of-the-art imaging systems and processes in mammography, radiologists and hospitals together can create the future image of healthcare in America.”