Can radiology be a role model for other disciplines?

It’s no secret that the whole of Europe faces a radiology capacity crisis. That’s hardly great for our profession, but it may have an upside for European healthcare as a whole. After all, we are not the only medical discipline that is feeling a capacity squeeze.

In 2014, for example, the European Cancer Organisation issued a manifesto highlighting the key role that pathology services play in optimal cancer care, noting: “In many countries there is a shortage of pathologists.”

Meanwhile demand for pathology skills is likely to increase as a result of the healthcare burden imposed by aging populations across Europe. These challenges will be familiar to anyone in radiology, not least because our profession is working hard to deal with them.

One example is in the use of collaboration networks. Teleradiology has been treated with caution in some quarters because of fears that it may rob hospitals of much-needed resource.

More recently, however, there has been a growing appreciation of the way that teleradiology could help add new capacity to the system, for example by making it easier for older radiologists to continue working. In the UK, 35% of radiologists are over 50 and 7% are over 60%.

At the same time, potential concerns over the quality of teleradiology services are being allayed by the fact that some providers are now offering 10% double readings as standard while at the same time measuring up to Imaging Services Accreditation System (ISAS) standards.

Similar systems are, of course, being used already in pathology. Telepathology services have, if anything, an even longer history than teleradiology. However, these services have traditionally been used to gain rapid access to off-site specialists.

They have not been used so much as a strategic tool to address wider capacity constraints, for example by allowing low-workload subspecialists in one location to attend to overflow cases from another site.

This requirement is starting to grow, though, and the experience and systems we have in radiology can potentially be transferred into pathology with only a few minor modifications.

Already there are pilot schemes in Germany where teleradiology services are being used in this fashion. Wider adoption is still probably a year or so away, but for now it will be interesting to see how things work out.

Lending our experience to another discipline will not solve our own capacity problems, but at least it might mean our current situation can be used for the greater good.

o   The Telemedicine Clinic report on Europe’s looming radiology capacity challenge is now available for reading. Take a look and let us know  what you think.



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