Alabama VA health system in the midst of severe radiologist shortage

The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) is suffering from a shortage of radiologists that is so severe that some departments such as orthopedics, podiatry and rehabilitation have been asked not to order imaging studies unless the situation is dire.

The situation, according to an article in the Montgomery Advertiser, is such that CAVHCS is left with only one radiologist available to read X-rays for two hospitals in Montgomery and Tuskegee.

In an email dated Nov. 3 that was leaked to the Advertiser, the system's chief radiologist asked physicians from other departments to limit requests for imaging studies to those that are "absolutely necessary." The email went on to say that the department is already short three radiologists and faces the potential retirement of another.

This comes three months after the newspaper reported that more than 2,000 patient X-rays had gone unread at CAVHCS over the last five years. At that time, the system announced it was hiring two new radiologists to improve the speed at which imaging studies were being read.

According to the leaked emails, clinical staff complained about the radiologist shortage, with one podiatrist calling the request to limit the number of X-rays ordered a breach in the standard of patient care. Another physician called the assumption that orthopedics, podiatry and rehabilitation can operate without scanning patients "asinine."

CAVHCS isn't the only VA facility that has recently run into problems related to the operation of its radiology department. Earlier this year, a retired VA doctor charged that a VA medical center in Texas made a practice of asking doctors to change the requested dates for imaging exams in order to hide backlogs for the tests.

To learn more:
- see the Mongomery Advertiser article on the radiologist shortage
- read the Advertiser article on the missing X-rays