Ready or not, informatics is now driving radiology

December 04, 2019
by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent
In an RSNA 2019 session about educational pathways for informatics education in imaging, the session moderator summed up the need pointedly and with urgency.

“If you’re a radiologist today, you’ve turned into an informatics specialist whether you like it or not,” said Dr. Christopher Roth, director, Imaging Informatics Strategy, Duke University Hospital. “You weren’t trained for that…(but) the expectation is thrust on us to generate machine-readable reports.”

He and three colleagues spent 90 minutes reviewing the pathways to higher informatics knowledge in a session titled “Want to Learn More About Imaging Informatics? Education, Resources, and Certifications.” Roth opened the session touching on a long list of emerging imaging demands with informatics solutions around standardization. These include:

– Workstations are no longer just a viewer and dictation. Radiologists need to communicate with technologists easily and incorporate workflow efficiently;

– A radiologist needs as much information as possible from the electronic health record to make a well-informed diagnosis;

– Informatics helps radiologists keep up with changing CMS rules and reporting;

– Everything in the workflow is now driven by informatics, from working with other providers to creating dashboards, to obtaining pre-authorizations.

– More and more patients are becoming consumers of imaging records. The days of storing images in boxes and file cabinets do not facilitate the transfer of imaging records to patients;

– AI offers advantages over humans — and vice versa. Radiologists need to understand the difference, as well as to make sure AI applications are safe for patients;

– Informatics expertise can help reduce liability.

The rest of the session was spent reviewing informatics education tracks, ranging from certification, degrees, fellowships, board certification, and Ph.D.-level education. Dr. Doug Fridsma, president and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association, said an essential first step is to decide why a radiologist wants more informatics knowledge.

Is the goal to better navigate their practice informatics? A leadership career in informatics? Or perhaps a research focus? The end purpose determines what investment of time and money is necessary, or in other words, what level of knowledge will help the radiologist be successful. He offered several guidelines for establishing professional informatics need, including:

– Conduct a practice analysis every five years or so related to interoperability;

– Be ready to fill in knowledge gaps related to new technology, such as blockchain;

– Keep up the professional education necessary to maintain certifications;

– Rely on practice analysis as the underlying framework for competency-based workforce development and recruiting;

– Understanding that certification of general informatics competency is more resilient to technology changes than technology-focused education.

“Don’t make certification a merit badge,” added Fridsma, making a case that informatics education above all must be useful. “It works best when it sits within an ecosystem of education, career development, and lifelong learning.”