Adapting IT for Radiology’s Future
With the RSNA® 2011 97th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, right around the corner, radiology groups and hospitals around the country are again preparing to seek the solutions that they need to survive in the new health-care paradigm—which revolves around the triple aim of reform: improving efficiency, honing quality, and increasing access. “It’s an interesting storm that has formed over the years, and it’s becoming more and more intense,” according to Jeanine Banks, general manager of product marketing for specialty solutions for GE Healthcare (Barrington, Illinois). She says, “Providers are faced with a tough balancing act among cost, quality, and access, and radiology, in particular, is seeing cost pressure.” Banks notes that radiology has been especially challenged because of both the imperative of the meaningful-use program and fresh reimbursement cuts from CMS, including a projected 5% cut to reimbursement for multiple imaging procedures performed during the same day. “There is potential for some of the spending in the system to flow from specialties back to primary care,” she says. “We see an opportunity to help radiologists balance demands at both ends of the spectrum—to be more productive by optimizing their workflow and by enabling operational efficiency from a technology perspective.” Workflow Optimization For these reasons, Banks says, GE Healthcare is focused on providing solutions for radiology that will aid productivity and efficiency, beginning with enhancements to its Centricity imaging products that will position them to offer what she calls unified workflow. “We’re integrating areas that were previously in silos into one continuum to streamline the process and help radiologists be able to read more exams in less time,” she says. “The focus on integrated care will enable looking across the hospital or health system to boost clinical performance.” The company will also introduce advanced visualization capabilities leveraging its AW Server within the Centricity PACS, enabling radiologists to work within a single system, irrespective of the study being read, Banks says. “Now, radiologists do not have to operate multiple different systems, and their IT colleagues can sleep at night,” she notes. “We’re unifying the workflow and delivering a seamless desktop experience so that there is better context between systems.” In addition, Banks reports, GE Healthcare will demonstrate mobile-access capabilities for its Centricity PACS. “Through these capabilities, you can look at both 2D and 3D images on mobile devices (both tablets and phones),” she says. “It’s about making access to imaging possible anywhere and at any time—connecting radiologists to their referring physicians and to patients.” Banks adds that GE Healthcare is reducing the hosting burden of mobile services to enable more organizations to be able to offer this kind of access. “It’s clear that mobile imaging will become a key platform for health care’s future,” she says. Multidisciplinary Collaboration Banks also sees a trend on the horizon of physicians from different specialties working closely together in multidisciplinary teams—the model that accountable-care organizations will foster. “One of the key trends in the industry is this movement toward multidisciplinary teams collaborating and ensuring that care delivery follows the patient and improves outcomes,” she says. “We see the economics of health-care delivery shifting from fee-for-service to shared risk.” For this reason, the interoperability of health-care IT systems will become increasingly important, Banks predicts; enabling disparate departments’ IT solutions to communicate with one another will help collaboration remain as efficient as possible. “Connectivity is very important,” she says. “Ensuring that the needed protocols are pervasively available will be key to integration for the benefit of providers, enabling them to work together to deliver better care.” Part of this evolution, she says, is the expansion of solutions aimed at the individual radiologist to include advancements like GE’s Centricity Analytics, which are aimed at the radiology department. “As growth in requirements continues, we will have to devise the necessary tools that department heads, radiology directors, and IT leaders will need to manage the operation of imaging—at the department and enterprise level and across the networked community.” Though managing individual radiologists’ workflow remains critical, she says, there is an increasing need for department heads to have a global view. “They need to be able to understand the patient flow, recognize any bottlenecks, and use visual tools in real time to understand how efficiently their departments are operating,” Banks says. By enabling radiology departments to perform more efficiently on both individual and global levels, IT solutions can help prepare them to work effectively in a shared-risk model, Banks says. “It’s important for the different stakeholders in the ecosystem, including radiology, to work together closely, sharing information and providing a single view of the patient’s care across a whole community of institutions,” she notes. In conclusion, Banks observes that radiology will continue to face fresh challenges in the years to come, and that IT solutions for both the radiologist and his or her department can help manage the change. “We’re focused on four critical areas: lowering cost, leveraging technology and IT, delivering innovations in how care can be provided, and then providing consumer-driven care,” she says. “We all know patients are becoming more empowered, and we have to respond to that by giving them the access they need. It all comes back to the patient.” Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.