Distributed Radiology Spurs Quality and Efficiency


To consistently provide high-value radiology services, facilities of all sizes must be nimble enough to meet fluctuating imaging demands without sacrificing quality. Distributed radiology is a compelling solution to this challenge. By balancing workflow among a network of radiologists based on subspecialty and current workload, distributed radiology makes imaging services more accessible while elevating patient experience, physician satisfaction and care quality.

Rigid Workflows Negatively Impact Care Quality

In radiology, flexibility is at the center of delivering a higher overall value of care. Without flexibility, healthcare facilities large and small can encounter hurdles to delivering high-quality patient care and reducing healthcare costs. These hurdles often include procedure inefficiencies and redundancies and are often exacerbated by insufficiently adapting to the ebb and flow of demand for radiology services.

When Demand Doesn’t Meet Access

Many radiology teams at smaller healthcare facilities lack the support of a full suite of subspecialized radiologists. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the American College of Radiology, 29.1 percent of rural hospitals fall short of meeting demand for interventional radiology services.

It isn’t uncommon for a small facility or system to have multiple partnerships for radiology-related services. These partnerships may include radiology groups, nighthawk services that cover the times when the group is unavailable, and transcription services. Approaching radiology services in this fractured way can often create a rigid, imbalanced workflow.

When Resources Aren’t Adequately Allocated

On the other hand, a larger facility with a full suite of subspecialists may experience lulls in demand for subspecialized reads. This leaves the subspecialists to complete reads that don’t require their expertise, which can lead to dissatisfaction and contribute to burnout. According to Medscape’s 2021 National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report, 36 percent of radiologists report feeling burned out. The same study also reports what physicians who report burnout believe would reduce their burnout: two of the highest performers were “more reasonable patient loads” (30 percent) and “more manageable work and schedule” (42 percent).

Distributed Radiology is the Solution

Regardless of facility size, inefficient hospital operations and imbalanced workloads can limit the effectiveness of on-site radiologists, causing excessive study repeat rates, poor throughput and unhappy patients.

Fully implemented distributed radiology services leverage flexibility to resolve inefficiencies regardless of facility size while ensuring read quality. This solution can elevate patient experience, physician satisfaction and care quality. But what does fully implemented distributed radiology look like?

Defining Distributed Radiology

The term distributed radiology is often used loosely to refer to any radiology ecosystem that utilizes both on-site and off-site radiologists. However, true distributed radiology is much more than that. True distributed radiology includes robust support to meet demands and deliver accurate reads.

True distributed radiology unlocks value for hospitals, clinicians and patients.

To fully realize the power of distributed radiology, a program must leverage an optimized radiology team and refined case routing to create an efficient radiology ecosystem that ensures high-quality reads. Both of these elements are largely dependent upon two factors: the scale of your network of radiologists and the capabilities of your integrated technologies.

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Once you’ve implemented a fully integrated distributed radiology network, the improvements to care quality, workflow efficiency and clinician satisfaction are hard to ignore.

1. Boosting Case Routing Efficiency

Refined case routing is integral to any distributed radiology program, making a powerful digital platform a necessity. This platform must be capable of delivering the right imaging to the right specialist to get the most accurate read and diagnosis for even the most complex cases. When the right results are routed to the right radiologists, reads are delivered faster, boosting turnaround times (TAT) as well as the overall efficiency and quality of your radiology services.

And when you introduce AI to such a platform, care quality receives an even larger boost.

2. Improving Practice Quality for Clinicians

Too often, off-site radiologists can feel divorced from the hospitals that send them images. When radiologists operate apart from frontline clinicians, care quality and efficiency suffer, but so too does the quality of practice for all clinicians involved.

Fully realized distributed radiology results in radiology services that are clinically integrated at the facilities they serve. For instance, the level of clinical integration that Envision Physician Services’ distributed radiology achieves helps reduce stress on frontline clinicians by making radiologists available to them 24/7.

For radiologists, distributed radiology means choices. It enables them to choose when and how to work. Working as part of a distributed network allows radiologists to either focus on cases within their subspecialty area or to accept a more generalized case load. Distributed networks make diverse practice environments available to radiologists.

3. Allowing Real-time Collaboration

Loose integration of off-site radiology services with the hospitals they serve can translate to longer TAT, delaying diagnosis and forcing patients to wait longer than they should have to.

Fully implemented distributed radiology models don’t have this issue because they achieve a higher level of clinical integration. For instance, Envision Physician Services’ distributed model relies on proprietary software that connects frontline clinicians at partner facilities to a national network of subspecialists that is available 24/7. In this way, the off-site radiologists can be better integrated into the workflow at each facility, allowing real-time collaboration between radiologists and frontline clinicians and ensuring that each patient receives timely, high-quality care.

4. Expanding Access to Underserved Communities

Making subspecialty expertise available to underserved communities increases patients’ ability to access the care they need, which leads to a healthier population. Distributed radiology models rely on off-site radiologists to optimize radiology workflows at the hospitals at which they’re utilized, but the best distributed radiology models utilize networks that include a multitude of subspecialists, thereby ensuring that each image reaches the radiologist most suited to read it and that each patient gets the most accurate diagnosis.