Radiology Analytics – The Data Driven Passion of a Healthcare CIO

When vRad rolled out its latest “Look in the Mirror” Radiology Patient Care (RPC℠) Indices and Global Practice Information (GPI℠) reports this past fall—the latest free-to-subscribers offerings in the company’s mushrooming analytics portfolio—CIO Shannon Werb paused to think back over his first year with the company.

“When I came to vRad in the autumn of 2013, I started to listen to how we had this massive data set and we weren’t really using it for anyone other than ourselves, internally. We were still just trying to figure out how to do that,” recalls Werb, who had built a name for himself in imaging technology leadership before he ever began helping to catapult vRad beyond the “internal only” barrier.

“Radiology is dramatically changing. Reimbursement is being cut, we’re moving from fee-for-service to conversations about value- and quality-based payment models,” he says. “And then you have this organization that designs and builds its own technology and is the largest radiology—or telemedicine—practice in the world touching millions of patients. It’s almost like we have this responsibility to lead and drive change into the profession.”

Driving change was the subject at hand when Werb recently took questions from imagingBiz.

Do vRad clients see the analytics piece as a nice little add-on to the professional radiology services they receive—or are you starting to see the analytics side catch up as performance metrics become central to getting paid for providing patient care?

Well, we are very technology and data-driven focused in everything we do. We design and build a lot of the technology driving our analytics solutions ourselves, and our clients benefit from that in different ways. Some clients fully embrace the metrics, using our analytics for insight every single day and being very specific about how they want to derive value from our technology infrastructure. Other clients see analytics as a future value-add to our core teleradiology services. “It’s nice to know you have that; use it for yourself but we’re very focused on the technology that we need.” vRad has created an analytics solutions continuum to address all of our clients, regardless of where – or when they want to start turning data into actionable insight to improve the health of their patients and their practices.  So, regardless of whether you’re a customer who really embraces the analytics offerings from vRad or a customer who chooses to take small steps, we are the right partner.

Apart from vRad’s voice recognition solution for structured reporting, which Dr. Strong, vRad’s CMO, tells me is a heavily customized version of Dragon software, you don’t use and modify anything else that’s off-the-shelf? You build from scratch every other technology solution that you use?

There are some pieces and parts that are third-party, like our underlying HL-7 platform or the engine that receives the HL-7 messages from our clients, or receives the DICOM images from our clients. But everything on top of it that allows us to deliver images to our physicians—billing, scheduling, all of that stuff—yes, it is technology that we build in-house.  In fact, we have 14 patents protecting our radiology workflow – with additional patents pending for our analytics solutions.  We had to design and build the vCoder℠, or data normalization tool, for example, because the solution did not exist in the marketplace.  Innovation at vRad is driven by curiosity, capability - and necessity. 

It’s not hard to see where that kind of tech-friendly culture must make vRad a great place to work as a healthcare CIO.

When I joined vRad just over a year ago, I came here for very specific reasons. I grew up in the industry of radiology services back in the 1990s when the technology that enabled physicians to take call without going to the hospital was just coming into its own. This was way before companies like vRad put physicians on the other side of the planet to read diagnostic images during their days—in other words, the genesis of teleradiology. That was around 2000. And then I spent about 10 years working for an organization that manufactured technology that fundamentally changed PACS—taking the “A” out of PACS and building a vendor-neutral archive underneath so you could plug more than one viewer into the front end and use it on an enterprise basis. So I had been very interested for a very long time in how technology can enable radiology to drive change.

Today, that’s still what excites me about my work. It’s not any one thing on its own—analytics or data or the fact that we build our own technology. It’s the fact that we as an organization have a responsibility to listen to our clients, listen to our partners, and figure out how to help them navigate and move the industry forward. Because, due to our size, we see it before they do. We can fundamentally bear the impact of it better than they can. And with us, we think they’ll survive and thrive in this new market much better than they would without us.

And that’s really what I love most about my job: constantly asking, “How does vRad continue our journey from a transaction-focused teleradiology provider to something that’s focused on partnering with our clients, leveraging our services and technology to help them grow and deliver exceptional patient care in this challenging new market?”