By Guido Stoeckmann
Timely reporting, keeping exams on schedule, happy patients, and satisfied staff are just some of the outcomes of an efficiently run radiology department. With 2021 settling into a more predictable year, now is a good time to look for opportunities to improve your radiology department operations.
Small Changes, Big Impact
The good news is that small, easy-to-make changes can have a big impact. An essential first step is to assess your current workflows to look for inefficiencies. For best results, involve the entire imaging department team in this exploration. Chart both the patient experience and the staff experience, beginning with appointment making and ending with consulting with referring physicians. Do patients arrive aware of what to expect from exams? Better communication before arrival can keep your schedule on track and quell patient anxiety. Are there opportunities to decrease data entry; improve scheduling, eg, by grouping similar exams together; create a smoother handoff of studies to radiologists; or enhance communication with referrers? Invite your team to brainstorm about how to address bottlenecks.
Even the most efficient team can be stymied by outdated imaging systems and software. The right technology can increase throughput, shorten report turnaround time, and make diagnosis easier. Before investing in new systems, investigate whether your current systems can be upgraded. For example, perhaps you decided against purchasing several small upgrades that seemed less significant but, together, would make a difference in your operations. Or maybe an updated reporting system would help get results to referrers faster.
In addition to assessing imaging systems, evaluate interoperability and connectivity. Include your IT department in discussions to determine whether older equipment is the cause of workflow problems, due to interoperability or connectivity challenges. Before retiring systems, investigate solutions designed to integrate legacy systems into your workflow and analyze cost and benefits vs replacing systems.
Assess Uptime and Service
System downtime will seriously affect your ability to serve patients and be responsive to referrers. If you rely only on original equipment manufacturers’ service, you may be paying more and waiting longer for service than you would with independent service providers and third-party parts. Today, many alternate parts are available, even for technically sophisticated components such as X-ray tubes. Look for third-party parts manufacturers with a global presence and the resources to mitigate supply-chain disruptions.
If remote service is not a part of your current strategy, you may want to opt in now. You can benefit from remote system monitoring that can identify issues before they become problems, remote upgrades that keep your imaging equipment on the cutting edge, and over-the-shoulder remote guidance to troubleshoot. Ask your vendors what remote service options they offer, to ensure that you are taking full advantage of this tool to decrease downtime and limit interactions that put staff and patients at risk of infection.
Look to the Future
If you determine your equipment mix is inadequate, it is time to strategically invest in new technology. Don't make the mistake of comparing systems before you assess needs and opportunities. If possible, survey your referrers to determine whether there is an unmet imaging need. Consider the type of studies that make up the majority of your business, as well as new areas in which you'd like to increase expertise and referrals.
Finally, measure your success and adjust as necessary. The demand for greater efficiency is constant, so a nimble strategy that adapts to changing circumstances is essential.— Guido Stoeckmann is regional sales manager at Dunlee. He has more than three decades of experience in the medical imaging business in both service and sales.