Dr. Richard Ehman

Exclusive Q&A with Dr. Richard Ehman, President of RSNA

November 17, 2017
by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor
In a tradition dating back nearly a decade, HealthCare Business News reached out to the current RSNA president just before the annual show and conference to get some insight into his professional background, the latest work taking place within the association and what to look for with this year’s event.

HCB News: What inspired you to get involved in health care?
Richard Ehman: As an undergraduate, I majored in physics, planning to pursue a Ph.D. But I began to realize that there were exciting and uncrowded areas of science at the intersection of biomedicine with physics, engineering and mathematics. This was in the early 1970s, and an area that seemed particularly promising to me was to apply the power of emerging computer technology and newly developed mathematical algorithms, such as the fast fourier transform, to address important problems in the biomedical sciences. So, at the last minute, I switched to medical school. During my medical training, it became clear to me that medical imaging was a field where these new technologies could have a big impact and truly advance health care.

HCB News: What was your first interaction with the RSNA?
RE: My first experience with the RSNA was attending the annual meeting when I was finishing my radiology fellowship in 1984. This was the only annual meeting of the RSNA to be held in Washington, D.C.

HCB News: What made you decide to engage in the society at such a high level?
RE: As the world’s leading radiology organization, RSNA is in a unique position to foster innovation in the art and practice of our field. This happens through the voluntary efforts of hundreds of members who serve on committees, teach courses, present scientific research and contribute in so many ways. Like others who are involved in these activities, I have always found them deeply rewarding. It is truly an honor to be asked to teach at the annual meeting or lead a committee. To be honest, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to be elected to the RSNA board. Serving as the president of an organization that does so much to make the world a better place has been a wonderful experience.

HCB News: What initiatives are you championing as president?
RE: In the years leading up to my term as board chair and then as president, my assignment on the RSNA board was to oversee the science portfolio. With great support from the RSNA board staff, we worked to expand programming to foster new principal investigators in radiology, developed a new stipend program to encourage residents, fellows, students and their research mentors to present their research in the scientific sessions of the annual meeting, and developed a new committee to provide strategic input on scientific affairs to the RSNA. As president, I have continued to champion all of these initiatives.

The theme of the annual meeting this year is “Explore. Invent. Transform.” In my President’s address at the opening session, I will be focusing on recognizing and capitalizing on some of the unique strengths that have characterized progress in our field. Ever since Rontgen’s singular invention, the major advances in radiology have often been the product of multidisciplinary science, were based on new inventions and technology, rapidly translated to clinical care, and have had high impact in health care. Resources devoted to research and innovation in medical imaging have had an extraordinarily high return on investment that deserves more recognition.

I will also highlight some of the key opportunities for future innovation in radiology, especially the growing recognition that we must reinvent our practice around the concept of value. And in pursuing this goal, we should not forget to harness the unique multidisciplinary union of biomedical and physical sciences that created our groundbreaking imaging capabilities in the first place.

HCB News: What has been your most memorable experience with the society?
RE: Several moments stand out, including the first time I made a scientific presentation at the annual meeting of the RSNA. Another wonderful memory from my early career as an aspiring investigator was the day in 1988 that I learned that my application for a Scholar grant from the RSNA Research and Education Foundation had been successful. That was a truly pivotal factor in going on to develop an NIH-funded research program. And certainly now, nearly 30 years later, the opportunity to serve and represent the RSNA as president has been an extraordinary experience.

HCB News: What items top RSNA members’ wish list?
RE: We know that RSNA members around the world want easy access to educational opportunities on their own schedule. And for that reason, the RSNA is continuing to add to the wealth of online education material that is available free of charge to RSNA members. We are also expanding the number of sessions at the annual meeting that are available for viewing in real time online through our Virtual Meeting program, and expanding the length of time after the meeting when these sessions are available for online viewing in recorded streaming format. The RSNA investments in these initiatives will serve our members and remain relevant for years to come.

HCB News: Are there any presentations or events you’re particularly excited about at this year’s show and conference?
RE: I’m excited about the debut of the crowd-sourced Fast 5 session, a unique opportunity for attendees to share fresh ideas on the Arie Crown stage on Thursday. Five speakers selected by online vote will have five minutes to speak on innovative topics related to the meeting theme of “Explore. Invent. Transform.”

HCB News: Are there any new events or updates to the conference that people should be aware of?
RE: In addition to the Fast 5 session, RSNA 2017 will offer Hot Topic education sessions on 3-D printing and Alzheimer’s disease.

Plenary speakers will include: Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D.; Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.; Daniel Sodickson, M.D., Ph.D.; Keith Dreyer, DO, Ph.D.; Antonio Criminisi, Ph.D.; Jonathan B. Kruskal, M.D., Ph.D.; Daphne A. Haas-Kogan, M.D.; and Robert Herjavec from “Shark Tank.”

The meeting will also have a designated area with machine learning education, as well as a Machine Learning Showcase where attendees can view new machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies and interact with vendors.

HCB News: Are there any concerns from international attendees about travel issues with entering the U.S.?
RE: RSNA is deeply committed to serving our international members and international meeting attendees. More than 11,000 international attendees participated in RSNA 2016, and I’m pleased to see that RSNA 2017 international registration is holding steady with previous years. While I am not personally aware of any specific concerns voiced by international registrants, RSNA always encourages international travelers to the annual meeting to make travel plans as early as possible and provides online resources and tips to assist attendees traveling to our meeting from abroad.

HCB News: What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you can offer to first-time attendees?
RE: Make the most of your time, but recognize that with such a rich range of options to choose from, you can’t see and do everything. Plan ahead, give yourself some downtime and register for the Virtual Meeting to catch up later on some sessions you may have missed. Interact with your colleagues from around the world, find time to enjoy what the city has to offer, and, of course, have fun!

HCB News: Can you offer some predictions on how you think radiology will have evolved in a decade?
RE: Historically, members of the radiology community have been fierce early adopters of new technology whenever they believe that it can improve patient care. Advances in technology will continue to shape the practice. I expect that radiology reporting will increasingly include quantitative information. This will be aided by machine learning technology that will be unobtrusively integrated “under the hood” in our imaging systems. We may see an expanding cloud-based marketplace for access to “imaging analytics,” which could dramatically accelerate innovation in that area. Approvals for use of new technologies in radiology will often mandate expanded data collection, so that outcomes evaluation and evidence creation will be embedded in the clinical radiology practice, rather than a separate and expensive research process. I also think that innovative streamlined radiology services that are relentlessly focused on value will gain traction. The phenomenon of disruption is going to be an important factor in our future.