As I embark on a new adventure as the CIO of Radiology at MEDNAX and vRad, I cannot help but reflect on the history of imaging informatics – and look ahead to the future innovations that emerging technology will bring.
Looking Back: The History of Radiology Informatics
Radiologists and radiology informatics professionals have always embraced information technology. The link between radiology and the technology that enables it is ever-present. From the early days of digitization and teleradiology, to today’s advanced workflows and visualization, the industry as a whole is constantly looking for ways to incorporate new technologies into the clinical workflow to improve quality, outcomes, and ultimately patient care.
The Present: Enabling Radiology through Technology
Radiology information technology today encompasses all the technology used to create a high quality diagnostic report. In this simplified definition, I include all the facets of image capture, storage, routing, processing, and display; all the tools and workflows needed to support sub-specialty requirements; and all the connective integrations, interfaces, voice recognition tools, and communication channels.
No small list – complicated in both range and scope.
Yet, when properly implemented, the technology disappears into the background. Working behind the scenes, it enables radiologists to derive an accurate image interpretation and diagnosis, rapidly communicate those results, and empowers patients and their physicians to proceed with treatment, consultation, or surgery planning – all at a reduced timescale.
Looking Forward: Living on the Cutting Edge
Here is the exciting part: we have only scratched the surface of what information technology can contribute to this dynamic field!
Today, the industry is buzzing with how to incorporate new developments in artificial intelligence, machine vision, and natural language processing. New advancements in neuroimaging bring the promise of sophisticated diagnostic tools for delicate conditions such as Alzheimer and memory loss; augmented reality developments tease the possibility of rich new toolkits for consults, education, and surgical planning; and quantitative image analysis and the field of Radiomics brings the potential to discover particular disease characteristics and, subsequently, cell-specific treatment options.
The list of new and innovative technologies continues – and I am inspired every day by the view from the front lines.
Cycling Technology from Innovative to Invaluable
While the next steps in technology innovation are ever changing, the process of innovation continues to follow a cascading three-step pattern:
|First, technology innovation is born in experimental development teams and academic research centers – created to solve complex problems or build the foundation for future innovations.|
|Second, the new technology takes shape when early adopters implement the technology and begin the feedback loop necessary for the continuous improvement process.|
|Finally, when successful, new technology becomes a standard feature that the industry comes to expect.|
I recently had a conversation with the director of imaging informatics at a very large imaging company who was looking to implement a new web-based viewer. I asked about the specific features they were looking for, he said “basic stuff, like 3D”.
3D is now basic stuff? Yeah – somewhat amazingly, he is right.
In a few short years, 3D imaging is no longer a specialty-only, high-powered and dedicated workstation, but a “basic feature” of a web viewer that industry stakeholders have come to expect.
I sometimes muse that in a few short years that same conversation will take place when discussing AI: an exciting prospect indeed.
Embracing the Future with MEDNAX
So how do we make our way to this heightened future state?
MEDNAX Radiology is bringing together vRad’s advanced cloud technology and on-the-ground practice expertise to create a comprehensive radiology solution based on an interconnected support network. Our work building centers of excellence in cardiology, women’s imaging, and the largest interconnected emergency and subspecialty radiology network is invigorating. The possibilities are endless and the pace of innovation is still accelerating.
Our collective challenge is to keep up with the consumption/capacity gap, maintain deployment and operational excellence, and successfully distribute and scale the technology beyond the experimental phase.
Moreover, our collective challenge is to accomplish all of this without losing sight of why we do this: to take care of the patient, every day and in every way.
I personally cannot wait to deliver on that promise.
About the Author
Imad B. Nijim, Chief Information Officer, vRad and MEDNAX. With more than 20 years of experience bringing healthcare and technology together, Imad is focused on driving continued innovation at the intersection of radiology and the technology that supports it. He enjoys the outdoors, especially hiking California’s Sierra Nevada and paddling through Minnesota’s northern boundary waters.