RSNA 2014: What to expect (and hope for)

It's that time of year again--the week after Thanksgiving in Chicago, that is--when radiologists, sales-reps, administrators, and corporate-types converge on the McCormick Center for the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. 

What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about RSNA? Cab lines? Coat checks? Really, really long walks in uncomfortable shoes? Mediocre wireless connectivity? Warm Chicago weather?

On the surface, the meeting sounds worse than a prison sentence. Why on Earth do we all congregate, like clockwork, on the south-side every year?

Because, each year the RSNA serves as a showcase for professionals invested in medical imaging. It reinforces what is current and unveils what is coming. It offers a general sense of the profession. RSNA highlights our greatest obstacles while also offering promise and cultivating optimism. After all, there is no problem that 50,000-plus people can't solve, right? 

Amidst the crowds, commotion, and chaos, there are certain givens. The ultrasound machines will be smaller. CT doses will be reduced. PET/MR will be faster. And the stents will be lower-profile. Buzz-words will be abundant. IT tools will be better integrated. Systems will be enhanced. And efficiency will be optimized.

But underneath the shine, will RSNA14 introduce and/or promote the tools necessary to conquer radiology's greatest challenges: quality and value? More specifically, how will the collective wisdom at RSNA begin to tackle the following dilemmas: What is quality, and how do we measure it? And how do we measure patient outcomes as they relate to cost in order to determine value? (To be clear, quality does not equal service--ie. turn-around-times--even though the terms are often used interchangeably. Both are important, but quality has only been meagerly addressed, to this point, by our profession.)

One vendor's pre-meeting advertisement states, "...we design value-based innovations to help you get the best patient outcomes in the most efficient way." Quite a promise. The best and most. I hope they're right. But what does it mean?

We all agree that we don't yet know how to measure quality. But, despite this, how will we seek quality and value? Will we look for faster and shinier products to improve quality and value? Or will we look for image-sharing vendor solutions that reduce unnecessary tests and radiation to patients?  Will we seek higher-Tesla magnets? Or will we seek products that improve imaging utilization, such as clinical-decision support software?  Will we be searching for faster CT scanners? Or will we be pushing vendors to build a nationwide network that hosts an anonymous, peer-review system that will allow us to truly begin measuring the accuracy of our interpretations?

We talk a lot about value and quality. A lot. How we spend our money, though, more likely speaks to what we assess as significant. 

At RSNA 2014, I will be looking to see how buyers are spending their money. Will we be buying tools that help our profession measure and improve quality? Will we push our vendors to develop solutions that improve patient outcomes for less? Will we demand products that allow us to measure metrics that are important, rather than convenient? 

Or will we be enamored by the showroom floor?

Matt Hawkins is a pediatric interventional radiologist and an assistant professor in the department of radiology and imaging sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. He also serves on FierceHealthIT's Editorial Advisory Board.

Prior articles by the author:
Patient-generated data: Re-evaluating the possibilities and necessities
Walmart and its implications for imaging
Re-recognizing the importance of radiology's professional community
H.R. 4302: Duct tape, delays and decision support
Reimbursement in medicine: One radiologist's perspective
Keeping score with revenue: The 2-step-back feedback
It's time to end diagnosis fragmentation
RSNA13: Business analytics, clinical decision support take center stage for radiologists