The radiology world is experiencing a gradual change in which ongoing technological innovation is leading to new expectations in terms of the operations and culture surrounding radiologic sciences. In particular, there is a growing focus on using radiology practices as a core part of diagnostic procedures across a wide range of care activities. This is leading to the increased use of multi-disciplinary teams in the radiology sector. Radiologic technologists looking ahead at how their jobs and careers could change in the near future need to seriously consider the skills and technical capabilities they will need to work effectively in a multi-disciplinary team setting.
The rise of multidisciplinary teams
The 102nd Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America brought together many of the leaders in the radiologic sciences field to explore major issues shaping the sector. As these professionals came together, many of the conversations centered around the growing demand for cross-disciplinary teams within the radiology segment, a Siemens report detailing the event explained. The entire event was themed around the idea of moving “beyond imaging,” with the core concept being that expectations in the sector are transitioning to a place where the focus is no longer so heavily on imaging processes as the exclusive goal of radiology teams. Instead, radiology professionals are being asked to engage holistically in care strategies and coordinate with other clinical stakeholders.
According to the report, much of this innovation is a response to the digital transformation that has taken place across the health care sector. With greater ability to gather and share data, including high-definition images, radiologists are empowered to have a larger stake in the care process. This creates an opportunity to improve the quality of care by allowing for a shift away from making decisions predominantly based on revenue potential and convenience and instead empowers care teams to be more strategic in how they devote resources to patient care.
Walter Maerzendorfer, president of diagnostic imaging for Siemens Healthineers, explained that the radiologic sciences sector is beginning a somewhat urgent move toward a more cross-disciplinary role in care practices.
“Radiology is mostly still very ‘classical’, with a patient referred, an image taken, and a short report of the findings transferred to the referring physician,” said Maerzendorfer. “But radiology is opening up, integrating more information in the diagnostic process. This offers the opportunity for radiology to transform from an image-based specialty into a more general holistic diagnostic specialty driving prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare.”
The evolution in how radiology professionals serve within the overarching care paradigm comes at a time when the health care industry is starting to take more cues from other business sectors. According to the Seimens report showcasing lessons learned during the 102nd Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, more hospitals are replacing long-standing organizational structures with entire care networks managed by chief executive officers and building operations around outcome-based performance incentives. In turn, many health care providers are standardizing processes and working hard to share data and resources instead of duplicating effort throughout the organization. This is creating a situation in which radiology technologists have a larger stake in care teams because the imaging expertise and similar diagnostic capabilities they can offer allows for better decision-making throughout the care process.
Putting a heavy emphasis on radiological sciences within care teams is echoed in a report from industry journal Cancer Control, which pointed out that expectations for radiology science professionals are shifting even faster than the technologies that underpin the sector.
Looking at radiologists as part of care teams
Cancer Control pointed out that diagnostic imaging and analysis technologies have grown substantially in the past few years, but even so, the cultural changes in the sector represent an even more disruptive evolution. Patient care advances are at the center of these alterations in the industry, with an emphasis on spending less time in back-office tasks and more time on direct patient interactions. To showcase this potential, the news source highlighted a move toward the implementation of tumor boards being held at the Moffitt Cancer Center. These groups bring together radiology science stakeholders with other physicians to analyze tumors and develop care strategies based on the input of the multi-disciplinary team.
Taking an institutional approach to studying tumors and developing care strategies accordingly was evidenced in a recent American College of Radiology report detailing multi-disciplinary care efforts happening at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Applying multi-disciplinary teams to care
According to the ACR, the UMMC began implementing more strategic, coordinated care strategies to complex cases going back to 2014. Since then, the care provider has been bringing together cross-disciplinary groups to serve in imaging-focused internal conferences where stakeholders reviewed patient cases and developed strategic care plans. In this setup, teams came together at the outset of care for approximately 20 especially complex cases weekly, often handling referrals.
Bringing together a team of cross-disciplinary specialists allowed care providers to bring more expertise to the table when analyzing patient situations and eliminate the need for retests and other practices that not only delay care but potentially expose patients to more radiation. All told, this is leading to more efficient and patient-centric radiology practices with benefits that extend across the organization, the report explained.
Preparing for the emerging radiology climate
Technical expertise is only part of the equation in the modern radiology practice. Radiologic technologists preparing for this future can benefit from an advanced degree that helps them either specialize within the radiology sciences space or equip them for a leadership role on a technologist team.
Leadership skills are particularly essential in this new radiology climate in which radiologic images play a larger role in overarching care strategies. This is one reason why leadership is taught in bachelor’s programs like Blue Ash College’s Bachelor of Radiation Science program. One example is the Leadership Strategies in Healthcare course, which surveys the theoretical concepts and practical skills used in health leadership positions. Furthermore, as Cancer Control highlighted, the technical innovation happening in the radiology sector is taking place alongside cultural changes to drive a revolution toward cross-disciplinary operational strategies.
Preparing for the near-future radiology department hinges on being able to bring together efficient processes, excellent communication with patients, superb imaging and data distribution across organizational boundaries. This represents a significant set of responsibilities within shifting care paradigms, and future leaders must be able to handle the cross-disciplinary interactions that come throughout this process. The University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College’s BRST program is designed to blend communication, leadership, technical and clinical training to prepare today’s radiology professionals for the leadership or specialty positions of tomorrow. The industry is changing quickly, but continuing education alongside professional growth can lay the foundation for skills growth and technical competencies that prepare radiologic technologists for the multi-disciplinary operational focus that is on the horizon.