A pair of recent studies--both published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology--seem to offer some ammunition to radiologists worried about their specialty's wider reputation and who have questions about what it is becoming.
Is it in danger of becoming a commodity? Is it a product like bathroom cleaner, or something more that provides value?
The typical view among many healthcare providers has been that radiologists spend their time locked away in reading rooms, interpreting studies and avoiding contact with consulting physicians and patients.
The supposition behind one study, carried out at the University of California, Irvine, is that the commoditization of radiology is being driven by a focus on relative value units and a lack of radiologist communication with referring physicians and patients, resulting in poor service to those physicians and patients. Furthermore, unless they're trained to be "helpful consultants," learning those skills on the job may come to late
Consequently, the researchers formulated a study in which they had radiology residents accompany internal medicine teams on rounds for two weeks. A survey administered after the two weeks found that clinicians that formed a strong clinician-radiologist relationship improved patient care and that the experience improved radiologists' consulting skills, as well as their understanding of clinicians' perspective.
The other study, carried out at three hospitals in the greater Vancouver area, followed a number of radiologists while they performed their daily duties and documented what most radiologists know: that radiologists offer much in the way of on-site added value on a daily basis other than interpreting images.
Actually, the researchers determined, radiologists spend just slightly more one-third of their time interpreting images. The rest of their time is spent on noninterpretive tasks such as those dealing with quality assurance, or communicating with patients and referring physicians. In fact, they spend an extraordinary amount of time dealing with other health personnel--up to six interactions per hour that impact patient care.
These studies demonstrate ways in which the specialty can move forward. Radiologists who focus on providing service to referring physicians, other clinicians and their patients should be taking every opportunity to demonstrate how they're adding value to the healthcare environment--apart from their traditional role as imaging interpreters.