‘Inside Out’ and what radiology can learn from Pixar

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of watching the latest Pixar animated film “Inside Out.” It got me thinking about some of the issues in radiology, and not just because the film offers a glimpse, literally, inside the mind of its main character.

True, neuroimaging has helped decipher some of the inner workings and mysteries of the human brain, but that’s not why “Inside Out” led me to think about radiology. While the film is endearing and thought-provoking, it doesn’t aim for anatomical realism (though what a fun Journal of the American College of Radiology article that would be to read if somebody’s brain MRI revealed five small creatures at a control panel acting like the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise).

The real reason I starting thinking about medical imaging is because I was reminded of the comments of Ed Catmull, PhD, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, who spoke last year as part of a Johns Hopkins University lecture series on how lessons he learned in the early days of Pixar could translate to medicine.

His comments were published online earlier this year in JACR along with some commentary from Johns Hopkins physicians about how Catmull’s comments could apply to radiology specifically.

For example, Catmull lamented the fact that as an organization grows, it’s harder for managers to feel connected to the experience “on the ground.” Because of this, they tend to play it safe by doing the same things over and over again and rarely challenge the status quo.

“Unfortunately, that will not allow you to be at the cutting edge of an industry, particularly creative industries like the one I am a part of,” said Catmull. “Acknowledging that there are many things hidden from us in an organization, and not letting fear of those hidden facets of the company prevent you from changing or pursuing new realms of possibility, is critical for a company’s growth.”

In this same way, decision making in radiology departments can sometimes be divorced from the everyday experiences of patients, noted the associated commentary in the JACR article. “Radiologists may have a good sense of what is happening in departmental reading rooms, as the majority of radiologists in a department perform at least some clinical work. However, ‘other’ facets of the department, including many patient-centric aspects of radiology, such as scheduling an appointment, patient parking, checking in with the receptionist in the waiting room, having an intravenous line placed by a nurse, or requesting one’s scan results, are all somewhat obscure in the minds of most radiologists but are critical in the ‘patient experience,’” read the article.

Catmull added that another key to Pixar’s success is they got away from the mindset that avoiding mistakes is key, and instead are willing to try new things. This, he said, has meant that most films have started out with ideas that just didn’t work, but that “a big part of our job at Pixar is transforming these films from ‘challenges’ to ‘successful.’”

In that spirit, Health Imaging wants to hear from you about improving the patient experience at your organization. Has your practice had a challenge that has been flipped into a success? Have you helped in any initiatives at your organization to advance the notion of patient-centric care in radiology? If so, please submit your story for consideration in our annual Patient-Centric Imaging Awards. We just extended the deadline through the end of July, so there’s still time!

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging