hile all aspects of health care have been buffeted by the winds of change, diagnostic imaging departments have been particularly hard hit.

Lower volumes coupled with lower reimbursements have devastated many departments. Physicians and patients are scrutinizing tests more closely, worried about radiation doses and out-of-pocket costs. Competition for imaging contracts is fierce among hospitals, radiology groups, national providers and independent imaging centers.

Imaging departments also face greater demands for quick turnaround times, subspecialty reads and 24/7 access. You may view your diagnostic imaging department as just another cost center rather than a profit center.

However, every challenge presents an opportunity for leaders willing to take initiative and embrace new technologies and new care models.

Pay particular attention to the following trends:

Trend #1: Support value-based care and radiologist alignment.

The move from fee-for-service to value-based care requires your radiology department executives to step out of their department silos and actively seek ways to bring value to the care process.

Those methods include studying the impacts of imaging studies on treatments and gathering information on the cost-effective use of imaging for a wide range of conditions and circumstances.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that imaging tests are most valuable when the probability of disease is neither very high nor very low but in the moderate range.

Trend #2: Enable images with EHR clinical data.

Electronic health records finally are fulfilling their promise to aggregate patient history, diagnoses, treatments, labs, images and more onto a common platform, promoting efficiency and reducing treatment and imaging duplications along the way.

Many radiologists, however, have to leave department systems in order to research patient data housed in the EHR, information that may be critical to interpreting images correctly and making accurate diagnoses. Smart filters that serve up the most germane items from the most recent encounters would eliminate information overload.

This would allow radiologists to focus on the condition, the images and the interpretation.

Having a relevant subset of clinical data from the EHR embedded into the imaging cockpit in the appropriate places of the imaging workflow would help save hours of time each week, reduce errors, and help avoid unnecessary follow-ups. It might even save lives.

As imaging executives search for ways to increase the impact of imaging on health care organizations, they should consider the effect of context-sensitive, automated integration between imaging systems and the EHR. That future could be filled with reduced manual labor, minimized duplicate exams, improved study appropriateness, better diagnosis accuracy and better value per study.

Clinical data from the EHR that can be included in the imaging workflow:
  • Patient history and physical
  • ED notes
  • Pathology reports
  • Surgical history
  • Discharge notes
  • Lab results
  • Allergies
  • Medications

Trend #3: Leverage imaging to aid in early and accurate diagnosis.

One way to achieve cost-effective, high quality care is to aid in early and accurate diagnosis on a large scale.

For diagnostic imaging departments, that means providing the right image accompanied by the relevant data at exactly the right time.

Here are three tips:
  1. Imaging systems should allow images to be accessible from a variety of devices in a variety of settings, rather than a designated hospital workstation.
  2. Workflows should be scrutinized closely to help maximize efficiencies. In health care, not only is time money; time can also have life-and-death implications. How can you reduce turnaround times by 15 minutes? By 30 minutes?
  3. Timing is everything. A physician in the midst of an exam or diagnostic procedure should never have to wait on the imaging department to see and manipulate the most relevant image. The imaging industry must step up to provide ubiquitous access to data – anytime, anywhere – something other industries, like banking, have long achieved.

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