Radiologists' job stress linked with computer competence, survey finds

CHICAGO - Is the need to be increasingly computer literate polarizing radiologists into communities of technophiles and technophobes? The conversion to digital imaging and widespread adoption of PACS, with reliance on use of diagnostic workstations and increasingly sophisticated software to perform image interpretation, presumes a comfort level with computers that today's current mix of radiologists may not necessarily have.

Researchers at the Maryland VA Health System in Baltimore conducted an online survey of 320 radiologists to identify relationships between computer literacy, occupational stress, and personality. The questions were designed to define the level of existing computer skills in the radiologist community, determine the impact of personality on technology adoption, and define the relationship among technology, personality, and occupational stress.

The survey results indicate that open-mindedness and willingness to adjust to new experiences are important personality factors in today's work environment.

"Radiology is the only medical subspecialty that is 100% dependent upon technology. Because computer literacy is now an important prerequisite for a successful radiology practice, a better understanding of stress and personality must be incorporated into the education and training of new radiologists," said Dr. Bruce Reiner, who presented the survey results at an informatics scientific session at the RSNA 2007 meeting.

"While radiology has historically been considered a 'low burnout' occupation, this is no longer the case," Reiner explained. "Radiologists contend with increasingly large and complex datasets requiring interpretation, with heightened service expectations by the physician community, with increasing medicolegal liability issues, with declining economic reimbursement, with supply/demand workload imbalances, and now also with the impact of burgeoning technology."

Does the lack of computer savvy contribute to job stress? Do specific personality traits contribute to a higher comfort level with computer use?

Reiner and his colleagues developed a three-part survey incorporating demographic information, a 60-question NEO Personality Profile designed to access personality factors along five major axes, and a 14-question Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) designed to provide an objective measure of stress over a 30-day period preceding the survey.

The respondents ranged in age from 30 to 77 years, with a mean age of 51. Of the total group, 85% respondents were male, 85% were married, and 48% were fellowship-trained. They were healthy, with 53.7% reporting excellent health and 39% reporting good health.

These radiologists had one to 42 years of experience, with a mean of 14 years and a median of five years.

The majority worked long hours, with only 21% working a 40-hour workweek or less. Forty-one percent worked 40 to 50 hours a week, 30% worked 51 to 60 hours, and 8% worked more than 60 hours.

Hospital-only (42%) and hospital/outpatient (44%) practice environments predominated, with only 12% representing private practice and teleradiology exclusive settings. Retirees made up the remainder. Hospital size was representative of national demographics, with 38.7% of the respondents affiliated with hospitals with 300-plus beds, 24.5% with 200 to 300 beds, 15.6% with 100 to 200 beds, and 9.3% with 100 beds.

Respondents were equally weighted between having advanced (38.7% and 12.5% sophisticated) and average (46.8%) computer skills; 3% reported minimal computer literacy.

As expected, younger radiologists were more computer savvy, but age was not a very significant factor in this survey. Radiologists who reported themselves to be sophisticated and advanced users had a mean age of 47.3 and 49.3, respectively. Average users had a mean age of 53.7 years. Those with minimal skills had a mean age of 56.

Personality traits measured included emotional stability, social adaptability, compatibility and consideration for others, and openness and adjustability to new experiences.

Individuals with high openness scores have a high degree of intellectual curiosity, lead experientially rich lives and are more open to change, according to the researchers. These individuals also scored the highest level of computer literacy (p ≤ 0.001).

Individuals with the highest scores for neuroticism and lowest levels of emotional stability had the highest job stress levels, followed by poor status of health, the group reported. Extroverted individuals with high levels of social skills experienced the least amount of stress.

A high level of correlation was observed between stress and computer literacy, according to Reiner. Computer knowledge was found to correlate with a radiologist's personality traits for three of the main personality factors.

"The Maryland VA Health System is currently investigating the concept of personality-specific technology development with respect to user interfaces, navigational software, image display protocols, and reporting applications," he said.

By Cynthia Keen contributing writer
November 29, 2007

Related Reading

My career in healthcare informatics: Is it still right for me? August 16, 2006

Technologists take advantage of 3D opportunity, April 25, 2006

Copyright © 2007

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