Some radiologists perceive teleradiology as the “Dark Side” of our profession. I may have counted myself among those skeptics, but I now see the light and am happy to share a place among the converts.
We’re not so different
Most of my career has been in traditional private practice, but there’s not a great deal of difference in how they operate versus a teleradiology practice. Both organizations exist to provide clinicians and patients with diagnostic insight. And both are concerned with their bottom lines. In the medical industry, effective administration–managing operational expenses, payroll, infrastructure, compliance, cash flow–is essential to enable the delivery of quality care.
Whether your practice has 5 radiologists or 500, if you can’t pay the electric bill, you’re not in a position to help many patients. If you aren’t profitable, your ability to deliver high-quality care is compromised over the long term.
Living a patient-centric culture
My grandpa was a radiologist, which clearly influenced my career choice. He always told me to see the patient behind the image. I carry that with me every day.
In my experience, the best practices empower radiologists to better focus on patient care. It’s important to have systems and processes in place that eliminate distractions, ensuring my eyes are on each individual patient. In fact, focusing on the individual must be at the core of a practice’s culture–large or small.
From day one, the training and support staff worked closely with me to ensure my readiness to help patients to my full capabilities. In most organizations, training involves rote instruction regarding “how we do things here.” But in my new position, the focus was optimizing my ability to take care of patients. My support team shadowed me virtually for the first few hours, then offered advice regarding how the new system could adapt to align with my style and preferences. A wealth of technology with innovative devices and programs now allow me to focus on the images and minimize, if not completely eliminate, distractions.
The team is always available via video phone to answer any questions or concerns. When I had issues with voice recognition–the headset wasn’t comfortable for me and somehow the acoustics and my voice just were not working with the desktop microphone–a new microphone arrived the next day. I strive to see the patient behind the image; it’s also nice to be part of an organization that strives to see, and appreciate, each individual within its organization.
A team member might ask if I want to extend my workday when it’s really busy. It’s an opportunity to consider, not a requirement to stay late. I can honestly answer, “Certainly! I love my job!”
Freedom to practice in my own style
There are many instances in which I find myself optimally positioned to help improve patient care. Teleradiology and all of the system support in my practice allow me the flexibility to focus on what I do best and enjoy most, and provide the resources to hone professional skills and expand my capabilities. I feel more connected with colleagues than ever before, and am building valued relationships daily with my partners and with our clients. I have more than 20 state licenses, so I get to talk to physicians and other health professionals across the country. I’ve gotten to know many of them because we’ve spoken often about critical patient results.
Here are examples of how I can be the radiologist I want to be:
Promoting personal and professional development. It has always been important to me to invest time in developing and advancing radiology through involvement in professional associations (Grandpa had a little influence here). I am active at both the state and national levels, and have been throughout my career. From the start of my tenure, our chief medical officer valued and encouraged this commitment.
Making the call. I am more apt than most radiologists to reach out to a referring physician or other health professional. That’s just my style. In many cases, a call helps clarify my understanding, and I find clinicians really appreciate the interaction. If I have an inkling to talk to somebody, I hit two clicks and, in a few moments, have that person on the phone. It’s good to know they can reach me just as easily. No matter where the physician is located, I’m here for them. I actually say that to many of them on the phone when they thank me for calling, by responding, “Absolutely! That’s what I’m here for.”
The opposite of remote. I enjoy interacting with others. I was concerned working outside the traditional reading room would feel like being on a remote island, disconnected. Not so. From day one, there was a wonderful collegiality across the practice. The onboarding team made sure I was linked to people and resources. I can speak to my colleagues by videophone. We can share the same screen when we consult each other on challenging cases. At my fingertips are engaged colleagues, advisors, mentors, physicians–a community of friends who support me in the practice of radiology.
Choosing to make charitable work part of my daily practice. I am so fortunate to have joined a company with a groundbreaking charitable organization called the First Read Initiative (FRI), formed last year. In just a few minutes, I signed up to donate a certain number of reads per shift, and it is automatically taken care of with no hassles. Many of my partners have joined to make this charitable work part of their regular daily practice, and we’ve already donated over $114,000 in the first year to RAD-AID to further our mission to support charities promoting the advancement of radiology and imaging technology in underserved/developing areas around the world. I’ve joined the governing board of FRI, and it’s inspiring to see the difference we can make in the world.
I couldn’t be happier about being a radiologist practicing teleradiology.
Katie Lozano, MD, FACR
Katie Lozano is a diagnostic radiologist at vRad, a MEDNAX Company. She currently serves on the American Medical Association Radiology Section Council Executive Committee and is Vice Chair of Doctors Care Clinic, a clinic for uninsured and underinsured patients in Denver. Following the advice of her grandfather, radiologist Peter E. Hiebert, MD, she strives to always see the patient behind the image.