ACR President Albert Blumberg: Technology is depersonalizing radiology

The American College of Radiology last month elected Albert Blumberg, M.D., to serve as its new president. Blumberg, vice chair of the department of radiation oncology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and a practicing radiation oncologist with Radiation Oncology HealthCare, long has been active in the profession. He is the immediate past-chair of ACR's Commission on Radiation Oncology, past president of the Baltimore County Medical Society, MedChi, and the Maryland State Medical Society.

Blumberg took some time to talk with FierceMedicalImaging about the importance of radiologists playing an active role in their profession, as well as some of the challenges that face the industry over the next several years.

FierceMedicalImaging: During your career you've made sure to be actively involved in your professional associations and organizations. Why do you think that's important?

Blumberg: It's an opportunity to give back to the profession and your colleagues. And I'm a big proponent that people need to be involved to be part of any solution and not just sit there and gripe about a problem.

When people would ask me me what I did with my free time, I would joke, "I go to meetings"--but it was actually true. When I was younger I went to a lot of meetings, and consequently you find that within a given membership there are really only about 15 or 20 percent of the members who are what you would call active. So, if you show up, you have an opportunity to contribute, and if you contribute successfully, you are given more opportunities to contribute at higher levels. And there's something rewarding about being able to create policy, develop an agenda and then facilitate (the completion) of that agenda.

In terms of the larger question--I think it's important for every member to have some stake in in an organization. Medicine is not a 9 to 5 job--it's something that's a 24-hour-a-day commitment in terms of your thought processes and your responsibilities to your patients. And I think when you are involved and when you are a stakeholder in the profession, the end product is that the service and care we give to our patients is of a higher quality.

FMI: As a radiation oncologist, do you bring a different perspective to your new position?

Blumberg: I think so. Because of my specialty, and my activity in in medical organizations, I understand we are part of a larger profession. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a physician, and then a radiation oncologist. And I think some of my colleagues may think of themselves as more compartmentalized than I do.

I'm fortunate that because of being a radiation oncologist I have a very close relationship with each and everyone one of my patients. I've been at the same hospital for 32 years, I have patients who I've treated 15, 20, 25 years ago, and I still see them once a year. We've grown up together and we know about each other's children and grandchildren, and it's a reinforcing experience. I'm sorry some of my diagnostic colleagues haven't had that same kind of experience because they practice a different kind of radiology I do.

There are many imaging leaders--particularly when you look at some of the things we (the ACR) are advising in our 3.0 initiative--who are encouraging radiologists to more actively know the patients we serve.

FMI: What are the major challenges facing the profession and how do you hope you can help meet those challenges as ACR president?

Blumberg: One of the big problems facing our diagnostic colleagues is that the technology has become so good--and telemedicine so pervasive--that they aren't necessarily working in an environment where they can interact with their non-radiological colleagues as frequently or as easily as they did when everything was on film. Now, people sit in a room and read case after case after case. That sort of depersonalizes radiology.

And with teleradiology, some people think you can run radiology departments without having significant on-the-ground troops. I think that increases the possibility that the hard work of my diagnostic colleagues will be commoditized, which is not good for the profession or patient care.

We also have a healthcare financing system that's focusing on costs, and we're ending up with initiatives like the MPPR  (multiple procedure payment reduction) that are nonsensical, illogical and unjustifiable, and are really weakening radiology.

I hope to join with my colleagues and senior leadership, whenever given the opportunity, to educate people about what being a radiologist is all about,  how our services are being performed appropriately, and how they should be reimbursed appropriately.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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