Innovative Partnership between Radiologists and IT Experts

Shannon Werb, CIO, Virtual Radiologic
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Shannon Werb, CIO, Virtual Radiologic

Pain Points of the Industry

We are fortunate at vRad because we have manufactured much of the technology we use clinically, operationally and financially. And due to our scale, we also manage a significant IT capability (servers, networks, internet, etc.), which allows us to service our business cost effectively. We also maintain the expertise to onboard and support our customers in a highly competitive market.

Such innovation can allow radiologists to spend more time being doctors and work more closely—and efficiently—with referring physicians to help improve patient outcomes

All that said, what keeps me “awake at night” the most involves thinking about security issues and platform scalability and uptime. Security is an issue that will always be present, yet is becoming more relevant as the size and relevance of data breaches increase. We need to continue investing in the improvement of our industry posture as it relates to security, but also we need to come to grips with the reality that we all operate in today and make sure we are able to respond to events as they happen.

For vRad, as with most companies offering vital services, we always are concerned about how we can scale up our platform and maintain nearly 100% uptime. During any night, vRad sees imaging studies for patients from all 50 states across thousands of healthcare institutions. Our radiologists cover some of the most traumatic cases, most of the time in the middle of the night. Platform availability, speed and uptime are of utmost importance—it can truly mean the difference between life and death for the patients we care for with our clients.

And finally, we must keep a keen focus on innovation. We can always do more to improve our platform so that it is doing more for our radiologists and the physicians and patients they serve. How can we improve our turnaround times? Is there a new way of getting “eyes on images” faster and with greater efficiency, so that the ER physician waiting at 3:00 am for the CT report has the right information they need to care for a patient as quickly as possible? These are awesome and exciting questions and challenges because they matter. Doing it right matters. It is all about getting the right image with the most complete clinical history to the right radiologist at the right time to save lives.

Technology Trends

Two technology innovative trends where vRad is leading are (1) big data and analytics, and (2) deep learning applications

Deep learning is the application of a broader family of artificial intelligence/machine-learning methods that involve using a large and complex data set to “teach” algorithms and build proper models that deliver highly accurate results in seconds. When combined with automated telemedicine workflows, this technology can unlock significant potential and improve how quickly radiologists can access imaging data of patients suffering from life-threatening conditions. While this scenario may seem futuristic, vRad filed a patent and is working to implement such a process by the end of 2015.

An example of the use of deep learning in medical imaging involves helping to find and identify the potential life-threatening abnormality of intracranial hemorrhaging (ICH), or bleeding in the brain. ICH requires immediate medical treatment; otherwise it can quickly lead to damaged brain tissue or death.

Anonymized data from vRad’s radiology patient care benchmarking platform is being used to train AI software to search and “red flag” images that potentially show IH. Once an image is “red flagged,” the patient’s study can be automatically escalated within the radiologist’s reading queue. It can also be assigned to the most appropriately trained/experienced radiologist (e.g., a neuro radiologist), so they can immediately direct their attention to the image, accurately diagnose the condition, and relay any critical findings back to the attending physician as quickly as possible. With ICH, time is the enemy; if radiologists can provide diagnostic information five or even ten minutes faster to referring physicians, it clearly benefits patients and their families.

Such innovation can allow radiologists to spend more time being doctors and work more closely—and efficiently—with referring physicians to help improve patient outcomes. This is the kind of innovative partnership—with radiologists and IT experts—that can move radiology as an industry forward.

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