The American College of Radiology's Teleradiology Task Force last week published a set of teleradiology best-practice guidelines in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. They recommended that teleradiology be guided by four principles:
- Patients should be a primary focus; consequently, teleradiology relationships should be able to provide accessible, safe, accurate and timely care
- Teleradiology should be a supplemental service, meaning that on-site coverage is preferable. On-site service, the task force said, suggests the physician is tied to the local community and will by highly motivated to provide a high level of care
- Professional quality standards should be the same for both on-site radiologists and teleradiology providers, and shouldn't be based on location. "Any model of radiology coverage, including teleradiology, should meet the standards of long-term, on-site coverage," the report stated
- Teleradiology shouldn't be outside of hospital or practice safety and quality operations and should be assimilated into the usual credentialing and privileging process
According to the task force, there are both positive and negative aspects to teleradiology, which is being used on an increasingly wider scale (Penn State University health policy assistant professor Jonathan Clark, in an article published in Organization Science in December, said that more than half of all hospitals now use such technology). On the positive side, they said, teleradiology offers providers the ability to solve geographical challenges, as well as issues related to overnight and sub-specialty coverage, according to the authors.
On the other hand, they said, some teleradiology companies "focus exclusively on report delivery."
Aside from "devaluing our specialty and undermining the role of the radiologist as an independent expert in diagnostic imaging and a fully engaged member of the consulting team, this practice further commoditizes the product of our efforts," they added.
The task force also recommended that ACR "continue to refine the guidelines and standards for teleradiology practice and work to develop protocols and software to better enable the bidirectional communication between physicians, technologists, imaging managers, and the like." In addition, they said, ACR should continue monitoring teleradiology practices and work with its providers to ensure that it provides the "same high standards" as the traditional radiology model. It also should "remain watchful" that incumbent radiology providers maintain standards at least equal to that of teleradiology providers.
Finally, the task force suggested that the traditional on-site, local radiology group model "serves the overall interests of most communities." Consequently, they said, ACR should be educating and informing members how they can enhance their positions--particularly when it comes to providing non-interpretive services--in their respective facilities to avoid being easily replaced by a corporate entity.