Better radiologist-RT relationships boost imaging center success

By Kate Madden Yee, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

March 22, 2011 -- At a busy breast imaging center, radiologists and radiologic technologists (RTs) work side by side, often with stressful workloads. It's crucial that they work together smoothly: If relations are rocky, the quality of patient care can suffer, and tension can lead to attrition.

Creating fresh ways for the two camps to communicate, as well as providing ongoing feedback and education to RTs, are important for a smoothly running, effective breast center, according to Dr. Sarah Friedewald, co-medical director of Caldwell Breast Center at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

Friedewald offered ideas for improving this communication to an audience comprised mostly of RTs during a presentation at last week's National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC) annual meeting. Advocate Lutheran's breast imaging program manager, Teresita Macarol, weighed in from a technologist's perspective later in the session.

Docs set the tone

A center's physicians set the tone and need to be well versed in all breast imaging modalities, Friedewald said.

"If the center radiologists aren't in a good mood, it really affects the environment," she said. "And the lead interpreting physician -- who oversees the staff radiologists -- needs to be flexible and open to issues relating to all personnel."

At Caldwell there are various informal and formal ways for RTs and radiologists to interact. These include system-wide symposiums, department events such as educational lunch meetings, and a card system Friedewald developed to give individual technologists feedback.

At a recent symposium, Caldwell radiologists offered technologists from surrounding areas information about radiation risk in mammography, handling high-risk patients, tomosynthesis, screening with ultrasound, and improving patient positioning. Lunch meetings center on topics that are pertinent to RTs and can help them better understand their work, such as MRI basics, according to Friedewald. As for the feedback cards, they are given privately to the staff members when needed, she said.

"It may sound harsh, but the cards are a good educational tool -- a way to talk to technologists about specific issues with specific patients," she said. "I use a red card if the study requires a callback and a yellow card if there's not enough of a problem for a callback, but there are things I'd like to see in the future. And I distribute green cards to give feedback on tasks well done."

RTs step up

Technologists are trained to acquire the images that radiologists are trained to read, Macarol said. It's important that RTs demonstrate confidence in what they're doing and not be afraid to ask questions.

"If you come to the radiologist with an image, you need to know and anticipate what that doctor wants to see," she said. "If the radiologist wants another film, make sure you know why."

She encouraged RTs to talk directly to radiologists about concerns, rather than skirting them.

"Often when I visit a center I can tell exactly which radiologist is reading that day, just because of how the staff is acting, for better or worse," she said.

Finally, Macarol emphasized that finding the right team members in the first place goes a long way toward running a breast center smoothly.

"What kind of energy does this person have? Is she willing to support other team members? What is his unique talent? Is she willing to work flexible hours to accommodate patients? Understanding all of this [as you're hiring new RTs] is really important for a well-run center," she said.


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