Much is being said these days about the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our profession.
This is supposed to be one of those transformational technologies that will forever change the way we work, hitting radiology with all the force of the printing press bursting in on the 15th century publishing world.
Indeed, there is little doubt that AI could have a significant effect on our practice, although perhaps not in the ways we expect (see below). Is it really as important as today’s headlines make out, though?
Interestingly, recent research by Geoffrey Rubin of Duke University and Richard Abramson of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine suggests smaller-scale innovation may be just as critical to our work.
In an article published in Radiology, Rubin and Abramson say: “Incremental innovation remains an important tool for preserving and growing radiology practices within a dynamic marketplace.”
They define incremental innovation as “the process of making improvements or additions to an organisation while maintaining the organisation’s core product or service model.”
Examples might include incorporating new best practice methodologies into workflows or exploiting new teamworking tools.
Unlike the adoption of AI, which may only be appropriate to big-budget institutions in the early stages, this “is accessible to practices of all sizes and must not be overlooked if practices are to maintain their competitive advantage,” they say.
The study raises interesting questions for our profession. Few would argue that we need to move with the times, but at what pace? And with what size strides?
Put another way, a too-strong focus on big-bang innovation could compromise quality born of tried-and-tested procedures. Meanwhile, a failure to keep up with everyday advances could similarly hinder progress towards better patient outcomes. Striking the right balance is not easy.
The task is made harder by the fact that some barriers to innovation are cultural or social rather than technical or economic.
Take teleradiology, for example: it has been around for long enough to be considered just another item in the radiology toolkit and yet continues to be viewed with suspicion by some.
A more innovation-friendly approach would perhaps be to accept the reality of teleradiology and look at the best way of integrating it into current practice. In time, it may be that the same goes for AI.
When it comes to innovation, perhaps the question is not whether or not to adopt it, but how best to make use of the benefits it may offer, on a scale that is appropriate for each team and institution.
As Darwin noted, organisms that do not evolve tend to die out, but evolution proceeds in small steps, not giant leaps. What step would you take to keep your practice evolving today?