Teleradiology enables diagnostic images like x-rays, CT scans and ultrasound to be transmitted via computer to radiologists and physicians in another department or half a world away. The result is more precise information provided faster to people who use it to save lives.
We've all seen it on TV medical shows: A doctor reads an x-ray by holding a big piece of film up to the light, or perhaps snaps the film into the holder on a big light box.
There are two things wrong with that scene. First, radiology now includes not only diagnostic x-rays and radiation therapy, but also ultrasound or sonography, CT (computerized tomographic) scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Second, according to Jim Egert, RT(R) (ARRT), director of Medical Imaging at Glencoe Regional Health Services (GRHS) and president of the Minnesota Society of Radiologic Technologists (MSRT) Metro District (www.mnsrt.com), most radiology departments have switched from film to digital technology. Diagnostic images are no longer delivered in big brown envelopes, but via computer networks and e-mail. The process of delivering digital images via computer is known as "teleradiology."
Saving Time, Saving Lives
"It used to be that the radiologist would get in a car and drive out to a hospital to read a head CT," Egert says. These days, he says, he's just as likely to get a call from a doctor saying, "Jim, I need an MRI pushed over to me. I'm in Dallas."
Getting radiologic images to doctors who are at home or away on vacation is one of the uses of teleradiology. Another is getting images delivered almost instantly from the hospital's radiology department to the staff in the intensive care unit, where saving seconds can help to save lives. Teleradiology also enables hospitals, physicians and veterinarians to obtain consultations from specialists anywhere in the world, who might have experience and insight into a patient's condition. GRHS uses both on-site and teleradiology services from Consulting Radiology in Minneapolis, providing 24/7 service with an average turnaround time of 22 minutes.
Radiology + Information Technology
"The Technologist now has to be an IT person," Egert says. "If you're in a small to medium size hospital, you're busier with the technology than you are with shooting x-rays." In that setting, the Technologist is also a teleradiology trouble-shooter, who needs to field a call from a physician saying, "I tried to send this image - what didn't it work?"
In addition, companies like Virtual Radiologic Corp. (www.virtualrad.com), based in Eden Prairie, provide teleradiology services to help local radiology groups expand services, fill staffing gaps and increase access to subspecialties. The company contracts with more than 135 radiologists around the U.S. and provided over 2.2 million image interpretations in 2008 with an average turnaround time of 20 minutes on reports.
For more information teleradiology and other medical imaging careers, visit the website for the Association for Medical Imaging Management (www.ahraonline.org).
Laura French is principal of Words Into Action, Inc., and is a freelance writer from Roseville.