RSNA13: Business analytics, clinical decision support take center stage for radiologists

Spending a few days walking through the cavernous McCormick Center in Chicago during the annual Radiological Society of North America meeting is not for the faint-hearted. The sheer vastness of the space, size of vendor booths, the innumerable hand-shakes--with 50,000-plus of your closest friends--can challenge even the most indefatigable attendees. It is huge. But it is exciting.

The spirit at this year's meeting was upbeat. Stagnate salaries and wavering reimbursements couldn't smother the pulse--at least for a week. Industry vendors continued to bring to market new, exciting technological advancements, most notably in multi-modality fusion and dose-reduction techniques. Their innovation will continue to improve the care we are able to deliver to our patients.

However, the most exciting developments/improvements that emerged during the meeting were not related to image acquisition or report generation. Rather, vendors offering radiology business analytics and clinical decision support software took center stage as the radiology community begins to genuinely embrace the unavoidable "volume-to-value" paradigm shift that is occurring in our profession.

It has become unmistakably clear that the next era in healthcare will be marked by improvements in the efficiency with which we use the resources and technologies that currently exist. New technologies will continue to be important. But now, we need to eliminate waste, improve our operational systems (which result in improved safety) and offer valuable services beyond report generation.

Radiology business analytics will allow radiology departments to collect, aggregate and analyze data in an efficient, modern way to improve operations. Weaknesses in processes will be identified. Improvement efforts can be measured. Inefficient steps can be eliminated. It will allow us to do things cheaper, faster, but most importantly--better.

Clinical decision support software will provide a much-needed infusion of utilization guidelines into our healthcare system. Based on multi-specialty, evidence-based peer-reviewed literature, these guidelines inform user-friendly interfaces for referring clinicians that aide in ensuring the right test is ordered for the current clinical scenario. Rather than trying to reduce utilization, decision-support software will optimize imaging resource utilization. A better end-result for our patients and our health-system.

It was clear at RSNA that radiologists are hearing the message about value-based reimbursement. The radiologists that succeed in this new era will be ones who have acknowledged the necessity for business analytics and clinical decision support. RSNA 2013 was certainly a step in the right direction.

Matt Hawkins, M.D., is a vascular interventional radiology fellow at the University of Washington/Seattle Children's Hospital. Follow him on Twitter at @MattHawkinsMD.