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COVID-19 pandemic boosts reliance on remote radiologists

Lisa Chamoff, Contributing Reporter | April 06, 2020
Business Affairs Telemedicine X-Ray
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted radiologists to at-home workstations, and imaging practices will very likely see a permanent shift to remote reading of exams.

During a webinar hosted last week by SIIM, a panel of healthcare IT experts spoke about their experience with offsite workstations both before and after the pandemic shifted the majority of nonessential work to people’s homes.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to pry these home workstations from anyone at this point,” said Carl Swanson, senior director of imaging technology at MedStar Health, which is located in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. “Anytime we’ve given a home workstation out, the probability it’s coming back is really low.”

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Swanson said the healthcare system had made the shift to teleradiology over the last few years as practices have merged and there has been the need for additional evening shifts.

“We were fortunate, in a way, that this change had started,” Swanson said. “We were also fortunate in that we were planning the deployment of another 16 workstations on the shelf that we could deploy relatively quickly. I see that most of those workstations deployed remotely will probably stay deployed. And … we’ll probably start encroaching on maybe a one-to-one, or close to one-to-one, other than breast imagers, with radiologists that have remote workstations.”

Ryan Fallon, manager of imaging technology services for the Johns Hopkins Health System, said remote reading has become part of a recruitment strategy, and that while it had started out as a luxury to give radiologists work/life balance, it is now a key part of their program.

“We’re hiring full-time readers in Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, Massachusetts,” Fallon said. “I think you’ll probably see a lot more of that happen in the future, where you won’t necessarily have to have these location-based, on-premise readers. I think it may provide some innovation and optimization in terms of worklist and workload balancing, for specialty reading particularly. Within our current reading worklist solution, we may see the ability to route studies from community hospitals to a subspecialty reader who’s employed by a partner academic center, but may actually be several states away. I know some of the software already is working toward that with varied success, but I think it’s going to ramp up.”

Don Dennison, a consultant who specializes in imaging informatics, who has worked from home himself for several years, said the COVID-19 pandemic will hasten the adoption of telehealth services and institutions will likely see a rise in productivity.

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