2017 was an eventful year for radiology leaders. The rollout of MIPS and MACRA challenged radiologists to prove value and deal with new procedures for reporting and reimbursement. Staffing shortages meant that many radiology departments had to do more with less. And hovering over the entire industry was the promise — and uncertainty — of artificial intelligence.

Throughout the year, our team has kept an ear to the conversations happening in our industry. We attended and hosted webinars, listened at conventions, and kept abreast of the latest research. Based on that experience, we have identified the trends that kept radiologists talking this year — the trends most likely to shape radiology in the coming year.

These five topics should be at the top of any radiology leader’s mind when planning for 2018.

1. Artificial Intelligence

Will intelligent machines make our jobs easier, or replace us? That question was top-of-mind throughout the year. As artificial intelligences continue to learn and refine their algorithms, many wondered if a truly digital radiologist was the most logical outcome.

Even as the field made significant advances, it appears that a machine that can match the expertise of a human radiologist is still in the distant future. A radiology assistant model is likely to be the first implementation of artificial intelligence, and even that is a few years off.

Currently, the most compelling use case for AI is in intelligent workflow and capacity management. AI can help make radiologists more efficient, properly prioritize care, and help distribute workloads for more effective use of resources.

Suggested Reading: Artificial Intelligence, Value-Based Care Took Center Stage at RSNA 2017

2. Proving Radiology Value

The ongoing move toward value-based care proved a hot topic throughout 2017. The value that radiologists provide to the health system was never in doubt, but quantifying and proving that value will be an ongoing challenge in 2018. Radiology leaders need to find new efficiencies and enhance their data analysis and reporting to make their contribution clear.

As radiology groups take the practice outside of the health system’s walls, proving value is even more vital. Radiologists will need to continually and actively promote their expertise and seek to be a full member of the patient care team and contributor to the health system.

Suggested Reading: Why Operators Should Be Standing by for Radiologists 

3. Radiation Dose Management

Exposure to radiation continues to be a top concern for medical imaging. Safe dosage limits and attempts to reduce dosage for radiologists and patients alike are part of the ongoing discussion on balancing diagnostic needs with risks.

Lowering cumulative exposure from multiple diagnostic tests is possible. While it takes an investment of time and money, the adoption of contemporary protocols and technologies can substantially lower radiation doses. A large nuclear cardiology lab in Kansas City, Mo., successfully slashed its average radiation dose by 60% when it modified protocols and introduced new hardware and post-processing software. 

Suggested Reading: Cardiology Roundup: New Research on Radiation Exposure 

4. 3D Printing and Computer Aided Design

As scans are able to capture ever-increasing amounts of data, it’s now possible to 3D-print models of internal organs that are accurate enough to be clinically useful for specific patients. These models can help aid in diagnosis and guide surgeons through complex procedures.

The Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit used 3D printing to avoid complications during surgery. 3D models have been used to help separate conjoined twins and test-fit heart valves before an operation. In each of these implementations, radiologists have an opportunity to be true clinical consultants, lending their expertise to interpreting the models.

Suggested Reading: 3-D Printing Models, Augmented Reality Images Help Surgeons Visualize Tumors [RSNA 2017] 

5. Enterprise Imaging

Discussion about enterprise imaging has finally hit critical mass, as health systems with enterprise imaging initiatives in place show quantifiable benefits from the practice. The enhanced communication and collaboration that comes with the free flow of imaging information across the health system can help hospitals be more efficient, control costs, and even drive better patient outcomes.

As the  imaging department is most associated with managing large volumes of information, radiology leaders should be advising their health systems in the way  toward enterprise imaging. Radiology leaders have the opportunity to educate and inform the rest of the health system on imaging best practices, standards, and processes.

Suggested Reading: Enterprise Imaging Inspirations: How to Explore, Invent and Transform Diagnostic Imaging[eBook]

2017 was an exciting year to be a radiologist, with more than its fair share of breakthroughs and challenges. Next year promises to be just as eventful. The Medical Imaging Talk Blog team will be there throughout, reporting on new innovations and offering expert perspectives and insight. Thanks for reading this year, and please subscribe to the blog to stay up-to-date in 2018.

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