Advanced imaging technology and your future… Where will you be in 5 years?

The future has already arrived. It just isn’t evenly distributed yet.

Digital radiography, artificial intelligence, picture archiving and communication systems, computed assisted diagnosis, functional fMri, non-invasive angiography, 4D ultrasound, and 3D mammography are just a few of the newer procedure equipment.  The hybrid equipment has combined modalities utilizing principles of MR, PET, SPECT, CT and Mammography.  Adding to these combinations, molecular imaging, we find an evolution of a whole new combination of skill for professionals. There is a professional void for operation, analysis, and quality assurance of the resulting imaging.

Is our profession destined to be the victim of planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence, or built-in obsolescence, in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so that it becomes obsolete (i.e., unfashionable, or no longer functional) after a certain period of time. (Wikipedia)

What are the technology giants planning for 5 years down the road? Will of the scanners of tomorrow use artificial intelligence to produce the images leaving the operators as “button pushers”? I recently has this argument on a research project where I needed to provide staffing for a PET/CT technologist and for two Imaging Analysts, one for PET/CT and another for MRI.

The challenge was :1. To find someone with training and/or experience 2. To establish a salary for the training and experience.  My results were less than stellar. The profession in radiology and radiologic technology has been “asleep at the wheel” and the result is that we are woefully behind the technology. Our profession has for many years been at the mercy of equipment vendors who do the R&D for this highly specialized equipment without the cooperation or collaboration of the educational experts.  Most of the training for advanced imaging only includes basic entry level principles of the modality. As many radiologist’s groups have discovered, it is impossible to be proficient in multiple modalities. The amount of information in advanced imaging progresses at such a high rate that specialization is required. Otherwise, diagnostic accuracies are sacrificed and the price of liability insurance skyrockets.

My application for personnel staffing was in the leading-edge research area where R&D for disease process is studied. Finding staffing personnel who had the didactic training was next to impossible.  Vendor In-service for equipment operation was not helpful if there were no principles to build upon. Troubleshooting equipment failure and understanding quality assurance measurements were a challenge. I also had cross training issues as I needed to train nuclear medicine technologists in CT where they had no knowledge of X-radiation. Regulatory oversight from state radiation control agencies did not allow the transitions. I have overcome this difference in the last several years, but I live in fear of losing any one of these highly specialized staff members.

At the forefront of this discussion is the question “Is it time for a new type of imaging technologist?”.  The answer for me is unequivocally, “yes”.   An article in the March issue of AHRA Link asked the same question with the results of a coalition of people coming together to discuss the proposal. The same questions I coped with 10 years ago still are unanswered. Do imaging departments buy and install enough high-end hybrid equipment to sustain a advanced imaging curriculum? After training can a higher salary structure be implemented to hire these advanced imaging technologists?

More hybrid equipment is being designed and it will combine the modalities to produce images to diagnose pathology. Artificial intelligence may streamline operations but the analysis of the gigantic amounts of data to be produced will involve a new skill set.  This new profession will not be for everybody. It will take a longer training time and a new attitude toward career advancement. But that is a subject that deserves a whole blog unto itself.

Where will you be in 5 years? Is newer technology a friend or foe?  I know that it will not belong to those who are not willing to do the continuing education for the career advancement. In the meantime, those who have taken the task have my sincere admiration and I hope you never quit.

One thought on “Advanced imaging technology and your future… Where will you be in 5 years?

  1. I understand your frustration with the processes in Imaging for staffing, although I feel that can be overcome by a few changes.
    My first thought is that like you pointed out, Imaging is behind in training for techs in some areas, but the compounded “double whammy” is that the advances in technology have also hindered the elevation of Imaging as a full partner in the treatment of the patient as a whole, specifically with PACs, as attending physicians, providers and residents are further removed from the practice of rounding in the department of Radiology, because they can view images and read reports without the personal interaction and discussion with a Board Certified Radiologist, thus alienating the contact with Imaging to a black and white report. Consequently, atendings, etc all, tend to make their own conclusions oftentimes which may not be the intent for patient care because the personal discussion, as mentioned, has not taken place.

    With this said, it is important that the Chief and Chairs of Imaging step up and participate in Patient Safety, Medical Morbidity, Tumor Board rounds and Chief of Staff committees regarding discussions of patient outcomes and treatments while elevating the role of Radiology as an intigal part of the treatment team for the patient.

    Are there obstacles? Certainly a measure of “envy” towards Radiologists, as we as a profession have never elevated our status in the hospital or in medicine since we were hand developing films and have not made known to a greater extent of our technological advancements, not to mention the tremendous advancements in Interventional Radiology! Think about who gets the blame for NOT coding an Imaging report and making a call to an ordering clinician on on a finding that needs immediate medical attention, especially on an incidental finding? We always seem to be. The ones with whom the most finger pointing is directed at.

    Back to the technology question and training. Some ideas….
    A. Coordinating educational inservices, either with vendors or through in- house specialty techs.
    B. Affiliations with schools of Allied Health for US, MRI, IR, NM, and Diagnostic Imaging.
    C. Giving Grand Rounds for other departments in the Facility.
    D. Initiating reviews of your tech competencies and evaluations for the employees, including self evaluations and six month “check ups” post yearly evaluations.
    E. Morning huddles to take attendance and improve communication
    F. AA for outstanding performance or above and beyond service.
    Just to name a few thoughts and ideas.

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