By Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes
For the past few years, information technology and digital solutions have exploded in the Radiology industry. It’s such a hot issue that the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) has transformed their annual conference to focus on imaging information technology solutions as opposed to solely general devices.
This change is driven, in part, by the current landscape. There is a massive demand for always-on and mobile-friendly solutions across all industries, even in the medical field. But another driver is the innovation and advancement of available technologies. Machine learning and AI have now made it possible to automate nearly anything from driving to radiological procedures.
Of course, there’s a lot more happening on the bleeding edge and some of those trends will significantly impact the entire industry. Here are six of the new information technology trends to watch out for in Radiology over the coming year and beyond.
At RSNA 2017, AI really started to make its mark, showing up in a variety of demonstrations. But it wasn’t until 2018’s conference when the technology’s real-world impact became evident. From machine learning solutions for detecting biomarkers in stroke patients, to the study of radiology-related safety events, AI was the clear focus at the annual symposium.
It mirrors the current state of the industry as a variety of AI and machine learning powered solutions pick up speed. The RSNA Machine Learning (ML) Showcase is an entire segment of the conference dedicated to revealing the latest and greatest solutions powered by the tech. It also offered some excellent networking opportunities for potential candidates with several leading companies. This helps show how important AI has become in recent years, and that’s a trend that will continue.
One related yet separate form of technology is Big Data. Massive troves of information are collected, processed, organized and then analyzed to find relevant insights or trends. But it’s not human laborers pouring over thousands of lines of code and raw data — it’s machines, or more specifically machine learning.
The deep learning solutions are used to improve existing operations, treatments and discover new opportunities. For example, with a huge collection of data, a machine learning system can help identify better and more accurate ways to diagnose patients. It uses historical, current and predictive models to cross-reference symptoms or markers of a particular ailment.
While this is a basic example, the technology will improve the entirety of the industry — from the way that doctors diagnose and treat their patients, to the medicines and operations that are available.
Understandably, all this talk about machines and AI had many in the industry spooked, and radiologists were worried they might be replaced. We now know that’s not the case — even with the most advanced automation solutions.
Radiologists are absolutely still necessary and they are instrumental to clinical care and patient engagement. This still has roots in IT, because the healthcare providers need to take all the data and digital content and make it more applicable not just to operations, but to their patients, as well. Think of it like taking an array of raw data and translating it for the layman.
Looking at it this way, one can see just how important the field is, making it a lucrative option for potential work now and in the future. In fact, there are many benefits to becoming a radiologist today. Job growth is remarkable, schedules remain flexible, and even though many of the more modern processes are now automated, it gives more time for clinical care or patient interactions — exactly why human laborers are still needed.
Each radiologist serves as a point of contact for patients, allowing for better and more down-to-Earth explanations of various situations, treatments or actions.
In addition to remaining necessary, the average role of the radiologist(s) will continue to increase. Believe it or not, automation and machine learning solutions have the potential to cover all the busy work most technicians do. Imagine no longer having to pour over charts, images and data? The information is still there and must still be presented to patients and their supporting physicians, but it’s all acquired faster and more accurately.
Another aspect of this is real-time data — something that cloud computing and smart, connected technologies like IoT allow for. Digital content can be ingested, processed and translated near instantly, allowing Radiologists to provide just as fast recommendations and insights.
Therefore, these health representatives suddenly have much more value and can be involved in a greater capacity. Radiologists can be involved with a patient’s care team not just for longer stretches but also in a more influential way.
It’s impossible for medical professionals to stay with patients every hour of the day, and that’s true whether they stay at a health clinic or facility, or go home after a quick checkup. But there is a way that Doctors can continuously check-in on their patients, especially those who need it. Wearable medical devices — think smartwatches or wrist-worn heart monitors — can be used to gather more robust streams of user and behavioral data.
In Radiology, specifically, devices like the MEG wearable brain scanner can make a huge impact in terms of how patients are analyzed and diagnosed. Many of these smaller, cost-friendly devices can provide as much information — if not more — than the most expensive machinery out there.
Applications and mobile solutions approved by the U.S. FDA in medical imaging are few and far between, for now. Expect that to change completely over the coming years, as mobile technology will have a huge impact on diagnostics, imaging and patient engagement.
Beyond that, mobile is an incredibly lucrative platform that offers always-on and anywhere access. Think mobile training and classroom experiences for budding Radiologists. Or OTA (over-the-air) screening and imaging opportunities. Consulting is possible too, thanks to secure, zero-footprint communications tools.
No, the trends discussed here are not necessarily guaranteed. It’s entirely possible that AI won’t make such a huge impact in the industry, or that mobile will never catch on. But one thing is definitely certain, and it’s that the radiology field is about to change irrevocably, for the better.
Patient care and engagement will be improved, new treatments will become available, and age-old processes and operations will be brought into the modern age. More importantly, the way in which field professionals support their patients will become more accurate and streamlined than before.
The future of radiology is bright, almost as bright as the negative parts of an X-Ray.
About The Author
Kayla Matthews is a MedTech writer whose work has appeared on HIT Consultant, Medical Economics and HITECH Answers, among other industry publications. To read more from Kayla, please connect with her on LinkedIn, or visit her personal tech blog at https://productivitybytes.com.