Feature | October 09, 2006

The Radiology Profession is Dead … Long Live the Radiology Profession

Rick Dana Barlow, Editor

Simmering just below the surface of the radiology profession is an infectious debate about what the future looks like for radiologists.
The growing anxiety-ridden undercurrent centers on the fact that other clinical specialties within healthcare facilities seem to be scaling the walls that historically have protected radiology’s turf from invasion.
We’ve seen the trend for years. In the operating room surgeons are incorporating imaging technologies into surgical procedures for more precision. Computer-assisted or directed and image-guided surgery quickly is emerging as the norm. In cancer treatment we’ve seen image-guided radiation therapy sprout as a successful procedure and have spotted such curious titles as “imaging physicist” debut. Interventional radiology weds surgical techniques with imaging and even the cardiac catheterization laboratory incorporates imaging into its daily operations. The list goes on.
What does it all mean? Why, it means the end of radiology, doesn’t it?
At best, it may mean the end of radiology as we know it today but that’s certainly not going to happen within the next decade or so.
At the turn of the millennium we heard predictions that the Internet was going to obviate the need for all print media. Yet, here we are still able to thumb through The Wall Street Journal or Outpatient Care Technology.
This “Chicken Little” movement within radiology should look no further than a facility’s information technology department for a snapshot into its future. Why?
Has the continual migration by hospitals and other healthcare facilities toward more desktop computing and away from the big mainframes meant the dissolution of the IT department? Of course not. The IT department merely expanded its functions by decentralizing its customer service capabilities.
As a result, radiologists should be thinking and operating more like IT professionals, and unless you’ve been on another planet (or Pluto!) lately you know that radiology is all about IT now. As imaging technologies move into other clinical areas the radiology professionals should be the ones responsible and accountable for making sure they’re operating properly, effectively and efficiently, and that the “nonradiologist” operators know what they’re doing.
Some may complain that manufacturers are making these technologies simple enough that even the biggest technophobe can work them. In selected areas that may be true. But so what?
When clinicians can’t seem to make their computers work the way they prefer, even by pressing just one button, do you think they really want to understand the technology fully so they can solve the problem themselves? Of course not. They’re more focused on directly delivering patient care. And as well they should. The computer is just a tool to make that happen. No, they’re going to contact IT for help.
Similarly, they want their imaging technologies just to work properly, too. This is radiology’s future. It represents a natural progression, an evolutionary development to a certain degree. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It just means that radiology professionals will have to brush up or hone their customer relationship and facilitation skills, much like other nonclinical administrative professions like materials management in hospitals have had to do.
Sure, the transition may be painful. Change without pain robs you of any learning experience. And pain without change simply is a waste of productivity.
See you in 60.

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