Familiarity with hospital improves teleradiology reading

Radiologists providing teleradiology services perform better for a particular hospital when they have experience reading that hospital's images, concludes a new study in the journal Organization Science.

To determine whether learning and performance improvement are customer-specific, Jonathan Clark from Pennsylvania State, Robert Huckman from Harvard Business School, and Bradley Staats from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined the experience and productivity of 97 radiologists reading more than 2.7 million images from 1,431 hospitals (Organization Science, December 20, 2012).

By estimating learning curves, the authors determined the extent to which radiologists' productivity for a particular hospital was a function of their prior experience reading for that hospital, versus their experience reading the same image for other hospitals, Clark explained in a statement.

The results showed that the radiologist's prior experience with a particular customer has a greater effect on performance than his or her overall experience reading the same type of image for other customers.

Considering the findings, some might conclude that outsourced radiologists should read for only a few customers, or there shouldn't be outsourcing at all; if a radiologist is only reading for one or two customers, then perhaps he or she should be an employee of that customer, Clark noted.

However, the authors also found that the customer specificity of learning diminished as the outsourcing company gained more experience with a particular customer. The finding suggests that outsourcing organizations should think about designing the work of radiologists to maximize productivity -- for example, by keeping some focused on a specific customer until the organization builds more experience with that customer.

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