Technology improvements push changes in radiology practice
This week’s annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America again brought more than 50,000 radiology professionals to Chicago from around the world to look at new technologies and trends in the profession. Several trends in the use of information technology within radiology were prominent in the exhibit halls and educational sessions.
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Artificial intelligence and machine learning
As radiologists deal with more studies, and more images within each session, artificial intelligence and machine learning can help them sort through images to find abnormalities that should command their attention.

For example, Philips introduced the latest edition of its advanced visual analysis and quantification platform, that can help radiologists detect, diagnose and follow up on treatment of diseases, while offering machine learning to support the physician.

In addition, IBM Watson Health and Merge Healthcare previewed imaging solutions that, while not yet commercially available, can assist medical professionals. For example, a cognitive data summarization tool can give radiologists, cardiologists and other physicians patient-specific clinical information that can be used to interpret imaging studies.
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Evidence-driven radiology
Despite the promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning in sorting through images to aid diagnosing, a fear of many radiologists is that they may be replaced by these advanced information technologies. Paul Chang, professor and vice chairman of radiology informatics for the University of Chicago School of Medicine, believes radiologists are seeing a change in their roles—for the good.

“We will no longer be valued for just interpreting images,” Chang said in an educational session. “We will be valued for managing the role of imaging within a capitated, aligned and risk-sharing healthcare system. We have to move to evidence-driven, data-driven radiology. It’s no longer enough to improve diagnosis-the goal is measureable impactful improvements in patient care.”
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3-D printing of organs and body features
There has been noticeable advancement in the quality and detail of 3-D printing, and many factors are leading to advancements in this advanced printing methodology. Images feeding printing programs are better, 3-D printers are improving and costs are coming down. Printers are now capable of replicating patients’ internal organs, giving surgeons a better feel for what they’ll encounter when they’re doing a procedure.
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Multi-dimensional imaging
Rapidly advancing computing technology is facilitating improvements in radiology studies that enable providers to conduct faster studies, gather more details and process them to show never-before-seen information to clinicians.

For example, Arterys showed a software application that can be used in clinical settings that can show cardiac function in several dimensions, working with GE Healthcare’s ViosWorks product.

Data for the analysis is captured in less than 10 minutes on the GE Healthcare device, a step that would have taken at least 50 minutes only a couple years ago. Cloud-based, real-time processing of images enable the analysis of imaging data to show cardiac function.
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Tech demands of value-based care
There is growing awareness among radiology professionals that value-based care is changing the perception of imaging from a revenue-producer to a cost center in healthcare organizations. That shift is putting a premium on improving the ability to share images and avoid unnecessary procedures and duplication of studies.
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Workflow redesign
As information technology takes over more of the routine tasks, radiology professionals will be asked to do more to assist the care process. Their role is important because determining the progression of certain diseases, such as cancer, from imaging studies influences choices about what care is best for a patient, says Bill Boonn, CMIO of Nuance Communications and adjunct professor of radiology at Penn Medicine. “The existing workflow is quite limited,” he says. “We look at an image, study the image and generate a report. We need to go beyond just having the ability to augment existing capabilities, so we can become better radiologists.” Those professionals who can take full advantage of their medical training and image interpretation acumen can have a big impact in care delivery, Boonn contends.
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Image exchange
For years, exchange of images has been stuck in the dark ages—often it’s the responsibility of patients to carry their images from provider to provider, with no guarantee that the images can be opened for viewing.

Now, more pressure is being place on vendors to improve sharing capabilities. For example, to further advance efforts to promote the simpler exchange of medical images between different types of viewing systems, the Radiological Society of North America and The Sequoia Project announced an initial class of seven vendors certified to achieve standards for exchanging images.

RSNA and the Sequoia Project identified the vendors that have completed the RSNA Image Share Validation program, which tests the compliance of vendors’ systems to accurately and efficiently exchange medical images.
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Storage technology
As imaging technology grows in capability, so does the amount of information packed into each study. Digital breast tomography studies can each reach a couple hundred gigabytes in size, for example. Multi-slice exams give radiologists more views to process, making the diagnostic process more complicated. In all, imaging data now represents about 90 percent of all medical data, according to estimates from IBM Watson Health.
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Cloud image storage
The rapid growth in the size of imaging data puts healthcare organizations in a bind—do they still attempt to store data in-house? Continued growth in storage needs is prompting more healthcare organizations to consider storing images in the cloud. Growth in the use of the cloud has been slow among smaller healthcare organizations, but many factors—and the ability to deploy other computing capabilities on stored images—may continue to push more studies into the cloud.
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Security technology
Just like everywhere else in healthcare, data protection is a growing concern for imaging professionals. Data accompanying imaging studies is just as susceptible to hacking, and radiologists need the same level of care in protecting data as everyone else in the healthcare ecosystem.