What can radiologists and others in the health imaging profession expect for 2017?

Hot radiology trends and topics in 2017 will reflect many of the discussions we overheard in the hallways at RSNA 2016. Technology will continue its race forward in artificial intelligence, wearables, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D printing. Some of these technologies are impacting radiology now. Others have gained a foothold in the medical profession and might trickle into diagnostic imaging.

“This is the most interesting time in the history of healthcare and medicine,” Zen Chu said in an interview with Medical Marketing and Media. Chu is Medical Director of Accelerated Medical Ventures and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “We’ve got so many new technologies and redesigned experiences impacting both the value we deliver as well as the value patients are getting from healthcare.”

In 2017, part of that value will be the result of radiology becoming even more responsive to its stakeholders, including referring physicians, collaborators, payers, and, especially, patients.

Artificial Intelligence in radiology

Artificial Intelligence was a frequent topic of conversation in the halls at RSNA. Many viewed Watson’s diagnostic display, “The Eyes of Watson,” with a mixture of wonder and skepticism. Eliot Siegel, whose recent blog on AI appeared in Everything Rad, was a member of an expert panel that explored the subject of machine recognition.

Dr. Siegel argued, “These image recognition improvements are not applicable to radiology because of its much larger and more complex information requirements.”  Radiologists can breathe easy—for now—but need to build on the new technology by adding value through working more closely with referring doctors, always to the benefit of patient outcomes.

Aunt Minnie reported on radiology applications for wearable visual-overlay devices.  Tools like Google Glass and Microsoft’s HoloLens for viewing a hologram could add information to an image-guided intervention. Additionally, Google Glass can display the field of view during an ultrasound exam. These devices could also foster collaboration among referring physicians, radiologists, and other colleagues.

3D anatomical models

3D printing is an area that has excited radiologists and other clinicians as an opportunity to bring to life studies previously available in 3D, CT, or MRI modalities. Carestream recently announced an agreement with Materialise that enables clinicians to generate an anatomical model from a 3D file output from Carestream’s Clinical Collaboration Platform. Other applications for bringing 3D modalities to life are obvious in both clinical education and patient engagement, and we expect to see many more in 2017.

Collaboration by mobile device isn’t just the future—it’s here now

Here’s just a few applications:

  • Teledoc is a service accessible by app in the Apple store or in Google Play that claims to have 17 million members connected to 3,600 licensed healthcare professionals including physicians, dermatologists, and therapists. You can connect via video or phone call, and the average doctor response time is 10 minutes, 24/7/365.
  • Kaiser Permanente collaborated with HealthSpot to “partner in delivering a pilot station for county employees who were part of the Kaiser Permanente healthcare network.”[1] This one-year pilot provided a private walk-in kiosk that facilitated remote care via high-definition video.
  • Carolinas HealthCare System engaged in a pilot to reduce hospital readmission among patients with a primary diagnosis of heart failure. During the pilot, “patients met with the team via telemedicine, using basic video conferencing and a peripheral stethoscope.” Results, according to the ATA case study: the 30-day all-cause readmission rate at CMC-L decreased from 19.39% to 9.82%.[2]

Internet of Things

The final two technologies for my 2017 hot tech trends list do not have a strong influence on diagnostic imaging yet; but they are worth noting because of their pervasiveness.  IoT, aka Internet of Things, has been around on steroids since 2008, when the number of connected devices exceeded the number of people on the planet. Since then, a number of applications have emerged—ranging from remote inventory monitoring to remote health monitoring, controlling energy use, and monitoring engine performance. These and myriad other uses explain why the IoT sector is growing rapidly.

Wearables have truly come of age

Many radiologists were actually part of this trend as they wore their smartwatches at RSNA16. PCMagazine recently reviewed nine of the best smartwatches of 2017. Most of them place a variety of health and fitness apps on your wrist. Notable are the Apple watch and Pebble, and many are compatible with both the App store and Google Play. There’s also a team at Texas A&M working on a new smartwatch to help nurses manage their workloads. And there’s even a high-fashion connected watch by Breitling that will set you back $8,900.

Undoubtedly, technology will continue to shape healthcare imaging as it does almost every aspect of our daily lives. Which of these technologies do you think will have the most impact in healthcare imaging? Which ones will fizzle out? I’d like to hear what you think!

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