Productivity Pressure: IT Unlocks New Radiologist and Referrer Capabilities

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Rick JenningsHealth IT continues to advance at a breakneck pace, and recent developments hold enormous potential for enhancing the productivity of both radiologists and the physicians who refer to them, according to Rick Jennings, CTO of Virtual Radiologic (vRad), Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jennings shared his perspective on some recent developments in health IT during “Accelerating the Adoption of mHealth: Strategies and Sustainable Business Models,” a panel held on August 15, 2011, at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation’s iHT² Health IT Summit in Seattle, Washington.

“This broad wave of technology is rolling into health care with two missions: improving care and reducing costs,” Jennings says. “Patients and physicians are demanding easier ways to share information, and there are proven technology approaches to facilitating that.”

Enhancing Radiologist Productivity

Under increasing pressure to do more with less, both radiologists and referring physicians are seeking technologies that will enable them to be more productive while improving the quality of care. “Reimbursements are declining, so the only way a radiology practice can maintain its income is to be more productive,” Jennings says. “We have very focused views on how to improve radiology, and we believe we are transforming it through the virtual practice.”

vRad’s virtual-practice model has, as its backbone, a suite of sophisticated IT tools called EnterpriseConnect, Jennings explains. “We’ve had our own IT platform for over 10 years, and it’s the largest PACS in existence,” he says. “The technology gets the right case to the right radiologist, and gets it done fast. We license that technology to our clients; we currently have 17 practices using it, and we have yet to meet one where we can’t lift productivity.”

In fact, Jennings says, the improvements in productivity that result from leveraging the EnterpriseConnect suite have been striking. “A private practice, on average, reads 16,400 cases per radiologist per year,” he says. “Our virtual practice can improve that productivity by 20% to 30%, and the technology is a huge piece of that.” The gains in productivity even extend to interventional radiologists; he says, “In many cases, we can increase their productivity as well.”

At the iHT² Health IT Summit, Jennings shared these results as part of a discussion on the potential of telehealth. “Some very simple implementations in mobile health can make a big difference in health care as a whole,” he says.

Enabling Referrers to Collaborate

Jennings believes that the most powerful effect of emerging IT solutions on health care will be proliferation of collaboration that these solutions enable clinicians to conduct. As an example, he cites the increasing use of mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) in practices and hospitals. “I think one fundamental change we will see is more clinical collaboration,” he says. “Physicians and patients are going to require very pervasive access to results and information.”

vRad includes, in its suite of IT tools, a results-delivery system, vRad Results, for this reason; referring physicians can be notified of a new report via their mobile devices, and they can access the report (as well as key images) from any Web-enabled platform, from a desktop to an iPad. “It lets the referring physician instantly get that information,” Jennings says. “An emergency-department physician can be continuing on his or her rounds and get a report right on the iPhone, where traditionally, he or she would be awaiting a piece of paper or having to log into an electronic medical record.”

Jennings points out that for smaller facilities without a sophisticated IT infrastructure, mobile delivery of health-care information is especially valuable—and allows them to maintain a level of care that is similar to that provided by facilities with more resources. “There’s a big need for these simple Web and mobile tools at smaller facilities,” he says.

As radiology practices struggle to grow their businesses in tough economic conditions, Jennings adds, providing the mobile capabilities that referring physicians are seeking isn’t just good patient care—it’s an important value-added service. “We do see a positive impact on referring-physician satisfaction with the implementation of these tools,” he says. “At one client’s facilities, the referring physicians have specifically said that they no longer have to drive to the hospital to see images—and