Telemedicine is the application of numerous technologies for the transfer of clinical information. The introduction of the internet has enabled telemedicine to expand its reach across every medical specialty. To this end, the use of telemedicine in radiology is termed “teleradiology.”
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What is teleradiology?
Radiology encompasses the diverse techniques used by medical professionals to capture images of the internal body to aid in the process of diagnosis or treatment. These imaging techniques can include X-ray imaging, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and several others.
Teleradiology involves first obtaining medical images, following by the viewing and interpretation of these images for diagnostic or consultative purposes by a radiologist.
Teleradiology, which is a relatively recent practice, is becoming widely implemented by hospitals, urgent care clinics, and specialist imaging companies. The reason for its increased implementation is because teleradiology addresses the lack of adequate staff to provide radiological coverage, as well as the general lack of expertise in this specialty.
The process of teleradiology is based on an essential triad; an image sending station, a transmission network, and a receiving image station that must have a high-quality display screen that has been cleared for clinical purposes. In fact, there are now specialized computer programs that are dedicated to sending radiological images with the same ease associated with sending an email with image attachments.
Advantages of teleradiology
Teleradiology improves patient care by allowing radiologists to provide their expertise without being present with the patient. This is particularly important when radiologist specialists, such as MRI radiologists, pediatric radiologists, and neuro-radiologists, to name a few, are needed. Many of these highly specialized professionals are generally only located in large well-established areas and work during daytime hours; therefore, their availability to the larger population may be limited outside of the teleradiology setting.
In contrast, smaller hospitals in rural areas may employ only one radiologist or none at all. In some cases where these radiologists are not adequately trained, the interpretation of some radiological images may require input from a specialist radiologist.
Teleradiology can provide an opportunity for medical professionals to collaborate with each other when they would otherwise be unable to reach each other due to extensive physical distances between these physicians. By utilizing teleradiology services, specialized radiologists can provide effective input for diagnosis and symptom control, as it often helps with obtaining a second professional opinion.
The incorporation of outsourcing companies or radiology groups to provide and maintain required radiology coverage also allows smaller hospitals to make better use of their own on-site professionals. furthermore, it allows for the radiologists who are employed by these smaller hospitals to maintain their normal working hours without compromising on patient care.
Teleradiology can also be economical for the hospital, as the outsourced institution will only require payment per radiological exam. The provision of these specialist services to manage inpatients at small hospitals without specialists on-site has been shown to be an effective way of providing high-quality care that would otherwise not be unavailable to the patients.
Outsourcing Teleradiology: Sunita Maheshwari at TEDxMAIS
Unfortunately, recruiting external teleradiology providers for off-hours coverage may carry a risk to the reputation and professional standing of resident radiologists. Arguably, these professionals may feel or become a less integral member of their institution than if they were to provide all of the professional radiology coverage. Their roles may even be threatened if their superiors perceive what they do as radiologists to be a service that can be purchased elsewhere.
With all the benefits teleradiology offers, there is still a limit as to what radiologists can achieve with the use of teleradiology. For example, the transfer of images does not give the radiologist receiving the images the opportunity to follow up with other patient procedures. Therefore, these radiologists must convey the appropriate information to the on-site doctors. This is not always effective and can often lead to miscommunication and confusion.
Furthermore, teleradiology is entirely dependent on technology. Should there be a lack of access to the internet (e.g., if the hospital’s internet is down for service), teleradiology is no longer an option and patients will remain undiagnosed or even untreated.