Radiology at a Crossroads

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Cat VaskoI had the opportunity to attend the annual Economics of Diagnostic Imaging (EDI) conference in Arlington, Virginia, for the first time on October 27–30; although the one–two punch of flying across the country for EDI and then the RSNA® 2011 97th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, held little appeal, I was excited to attend what had long been called one of the most thought-provoking conferences in imaging—and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I can’t imagine a better kickoff to RSNA than spending four days immersed in the economics of today’s imaging marketplace. Between sessions in which thought leaders shared their views on commoditization, consolidation, and leadership, I found myself chatting with a radiologist attendee. When I introduced myself as a journalist, he said, “You don’t have to worry about your job, then, do you?” I laughed and responded, “Did you not hear me when I said I was a journalist?” Later, I thought about this exchange and realized that there are a lot of parallels between journalism and radiology. Both fields have experienced commoditization, as all mature markets must—and both fields can blame IT, to a certain degree, for the widespread dissemination of what was once a highly localized service, and for erosion in both the cost and quality of that service (which could easily spur the commoditization to continue, if something isn’t done to reverse the tide). As so many of you in imaging do, I still believe in my field, in spite of its current troubles. I still believe in journalism’s power to connect people and to encourage the spread of ideas. As an editor of online journals, that means that I have to work with the current circumstances to figure out how to innovate in this field and how to use the unique properties of electronic media to enhance the journalistic product. Journalism is at a crossroads, but it’s not going anywhere—it’s just undergoing an evolution—one in which I’m excited to play a small role. As we head off to Chicago to help the RSNA celebrate the image and to contemplate the future of the profession, I will be interested in seeing what our readers are thinking of doing to enhance their services in a time of evolution and to work with the many changes we have seen—most recently, the emergence of new payment models—to create a fresh value proposition for imaging. There will undoubtedly be talk of consolidation: of smaller groups joining in larger practices or cooperative networks, linking together with sophisticated IT, and leveraging their economies of scale to gain lower prices on equipment and maintenance and better contracts with payors. There will also be dissent—advocacy for the power of the traditional model of radiology to provide better patient care and stewardship of the diagnostic process. What’s exciting is that in spite of the nonstop doom-and-gloom forecasting that is necessary to spur people to action, the decisions of radiology groups today will inevitably shape the paradigm for radiology groups 10, 15, and 20 years from now. The discussions at this year’s RSNA meeting—the little chats in the booths or between sessions in the hallways of McCormick Place—will be the foundation for thought in the field for the year to come, and 2012 promises to be a year of innovation by necessity. Today’s radiologists and radiology administrators might not have asked for or wanted this role, but they will shape the future of a profession at a crossroads. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also a privilege. Stop by and see us in booth 2804 in the South Hall to share your thoughts and the subjects of your conversations with other decision makers in the field. This is the most exciting time of the year for imaging, and we can’t wait to hear your ideas on where the profession will go, in 2012 and beyond it. Cat Vasko is editor of and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.