Investing in IT interoperability can extinguish radiologist burnout

By Robert Judd, PhD

November 12, 2021 -- Burnout is a pervasive problem in the medical field. Physicians are currently experiencing a burnout rate of about 43%, according to the 2020 Medscape National Physician Burnout and Suicide Report -- a significantly higher rate than seen in other professions.

 Robert Judd
Robert Judd, PhD.

Notable factors contributing to burnout among healthcare providers include becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the emotional toll of their jobs, most notably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as depersonalization of care.

Technology solutions like electronic health records (EHRs) and other digital tools have been deployed in an effort to make life easier for physicians. In many cases, though, it has had the opposite effect. Physicians want to spend more time with patients.

But software that wasn't designed with the providers' workflow in mind frequently forces physicians to focus more on administrative work than on increased face-to-face patient interactions. In fact, nearly 70% of physicians said they've experienced stress resulting from the demand of health IT use, which contributes to their burnout and limits their ability to provide high-quality patient care, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

In other cases, health technology tools can also contribute to errors, additional unnecessary testing, and missteps since point solutions are not designed to integrate across the entire patient care continuum. A 2017 study by the Patient Safety Authority found the majority of errors were attributed to the human-computer interface (33%), workflow and communication (24%), and clinical content (23%).

Imaging services hand-off

Imaging services is one such area that sees frequent transitions of care responsibility -- from primary care to radiologists to specialists -- for both diagnostic and interventional imaging. Yet imaging workflows and information systems are often fragmented, difficult to navigate, inflexible, and not integrated to ensure that all necessary parties have access to the same information.

In fact, an article in the American Journal of Roentgenology noted that the problems created by these disconnected systems are far from trivial and range from interruptions and wasted time to patient harm because of missed findings and miscommunication.

The frequency of patient handoffs in radiology, cardiology, and other imaging services requires a closer look at ways to resolve the miscommunications and the problems that can occur. One of the major challenges is that the main mode of communication is written reports rather than face-to-face interactions between healthcare providers or seamless solutions that act as the single source of reference for all patient information. These written reports may offer only vague details and suggestions on next steps, with transcription errors occurring in about 22% of reports, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Technology can absolutely streamline communications, improve efficiency, and support better patient outcomes. But as providers consider new IT investments to ease physician burnout and improve patient care, interoperability must be made a top priority. By tying together complex IT systems including PACS, enterprise imaging systems, and other facets of the imaging infrastructure, hospitals can reduce the frustration of staff across a variety of departments and solve the communications difficulties that are common with the use of paper records.

Leveraging the cloud for this is key. Cloud-based imaging platforms can reduce the complexity associated with healthcare IT and make it easier for colleagues in every department to collaborate effectively. Images and records can be easily accessed by all providers involved in a patient's care, ensuring there is no miscommunication or errors in the transfer between departments.

Integrating workflow for all imaging services into clinical decision support (CDS) and EHRs is just the first step. Introducing analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) into the platform can further enhance physicians' capabilities.

Analytics is vital because so much data is being created within modern digital imaging platforms and the sheer quantity can overwhelm providers. By adding analytics to an imaging platform, radiologists and physicians can be more efficient in diagnosing patients, resulting in better patient care. AI is also changing the way providers work, helping automate tedious tasks and shining light on the day-to-day patterns and needs of patients. Examples include helping read radiology images and assisting with making clinical diagnoses and treatment plans.

By focusing on improving health IT interoperability related to radiology, cardiology, and other imaging services, providers can ease the burden on physicians by implementing a cohesive platform that is used by all staff. Doing so will remove the potential for miscommunication and missing or vague information during patient handoffs while improving the speed of decision-making, reducing physician stress, and achieving better coordination of care.

Robert Judd, PhD, currently serves as the chief medical information officer at Intelerad Medical Systems. His work is centered around large-scale management of digital medical information, including software for image processing and storage, designing structured databases that underlie clinical information systems, creating and maintaining multicenter cloud services, and improving patient outcomes by analyzing multicenter data collected during routine clinical workflow.

Prior to joining Intelerad, Judd was president of Heart Imaging Technologies and is a professor of medicine and radiology at Duke University, where he co-founded the Duke Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Center in 2001. His peer-reviewed journal articles in the field of medical imaging have been cited more than 27,000 times, and he has received Gold Medal Awards from both the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM, 2014) and the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (SCMR, 2015). He received his PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1990 and completed his postdoctoral training in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in 1992.

The comments and observations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AuntMinnie.com.


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