Which nuclear medicine specialists spend the most time practicing their craft?

In the face of a challenging nuclear medicine (NM) landscape, defined by declining reimbursement and disruptive technology, a group of radiologists set out to determine work patterns of self-identified NM specialists.

The research, led by corresponding author Patricia Balthazar, with Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, was published Aug. 7 in the American Journal of Roentgenology

Researchers retrospectively linked and analyzed public data sets from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the U.S. Census Bureau between 2012 through 2015. Some 1,583 physicians met the nuclear medicine self-identification criteria.

Overall, results showed the work patterns of U.S. NM specialists was “highly variable,” Balthazar et al. noted. A majority of nuclear radiologists and cardiologists dedicated 0 to 10 percent of their work time to nuclear medicine. However, most NM physicians were able to devote 90 to 100 percent to their specialty.

Nuclear medicine physicians interpreted more general NM studies, radiologists interpreted more cross-sectional imaging and nuclear cardiologists focused mainly on nuclear cardiology.

Balthazar and colleagues also produced results by gender, geographic area and practice type. Additional findings are below:

  • Self-identified NM specialists were overwhelmingly male (80 percent).
  • A majority worked in urban (98 percent) versus rural (2 percent) environments.
  • Nuclear radiologists accounted for 52 percent of specialists, followed by nuclear medicine specialists (20 percent), nuclear cardiologists (18 percent) and others (10 percent).
  • More NM specialists reported working in the nonacademic setting (63 percent) compared to academic (37 percent).

Given the fact that most radiology practices are generalized and patients have limited access to subspecialists, authors argued it may be difficult for radiologists to gain a greater expertise in NM through increased specialization.

However, they believe the data produced in this study can help inform legislation and reimbursement measures in the specialty.

“As individual practice-and specialty-specific metrics increasingly influence physician reimbursement under new payment and delivery models, understanding variability in NM work patterns will be critical to develop meaningful quality measures as well as to inform policy-makers and training programs about the current status of the NM workforce,” Balthazar and colleagues concluded.