Meeting Radiology’s Workflow Challenges Head-On

 In Enterprise Imaging

A well-oiled, end-to-end workflow is key to a radiology department’s success. To achieve such workflow, departments need to assess and measure their current state workflow and establish benchmarks so they can identify improvement. To complicate matters, radiology operations are complex with a multitude of variables and challenges. Inefficiency in radiology impacts emergency departments, operating rooms, inpatients, and other patient care providers. It can result in longer turnaround times and slow delivery of results, treatment, and overall patient care. Thus, an efficient workflow in the radiology department is paramount to a health system’s operational success.

Every radiology department has challenges that can be streamlined to meet operational and clinical targets:

High exam volume
The large volume of exams performed within a radiology department presents the greatest challenge to workflow efficiency. Meeting agreed-upon SLAs within budgetary constraints can seem impossible. Fortunately, real-time locating system workflow and patient flow software that works with both EHR- and PACS-driven workflows can be integrated to communicate relevant details regarding patients, exam schedule, order completion, etc. In addition, patient and technologist location capabilities improve situational awareness around the operational delivery of care. These types of integrations result in increased productivity, capacity, and shorter wait times.

Workload balancing
Balancing capacity and staffing to meet patient needs can be extremely difficult. Be sure to involve staff in the workflow optimization process. Workload orchestration solutions can significantly enhance workload balancing through automatic, rules-based prioritization and dynamic assignment.

Managing disparate systems
Historically, radiology PACS have been disconnected from EHRs. This lack of interoperability creates workflow challenges both inside and outside the radiology department. Health systems that want to meet meaningful use requirements and improve workflow to achieve clinical and operational KPIs must make the technology investments necessary to link PACS with the EHR.

Dispersed locations
Radiology departments are often spread out across a hospital. Logistical challenges of transporting patients between areas exist for nursing staff, transport staff, technologists and radiologists. Patient flow can be refined and the patient’s journey through radiology can be accelerated by implementing data visualization tools. For example, Enterprise Visibility from Change Healthcare takes data that is hidden in your EHR, RIS, and other systems and transforms them into visual cues that the entire enterprise can see. This helps organizations increase the number of patients seen daily and optimize utilization of expensive equipment investments.

Multiple workflows
Radiology departments deal with multiple workflows running simultaneously with numerous modalities. This often causes a bottleneck in the registration/check-in process. A patient-tracking solution can help break down communication siloes between modalities to minimize bottlenecks and keep the entire organization working toward the same priorities and goals. Many patients show up at the same time for different exams. Some exams take a matter of moments to complete, while other exams take as much as an hour or more to complete. Patients in a waiting area do not understand why others who checked in after them are called back sooner. Thus, managing expectations is important and the responsibility should lie with the administrator who checks in the patient. If approximate wait times are communicated as well as an explanation for earlier call backs, patient satisfaction will improve. Timers in a patient tracking system can help administrators keep an eye on how long specific studies are taking, and helps the administrator accurately manage expectations to keep patients apprised of when they will be seen.

Competing Demands on Radiologists
Radiologists are under more pressure to participate in patient care and perform tasks beyond diagnostic reading. In order for them to use their clinical expertise most effectively, analytics and business intelligence can help reveal areas where they still need to optimize workflow.

Hospitals can optimize this workflow and create more efficient clinical operations and better patient care. To do so, they need to standardize reporting metrics and improve overall communication between the radiology department and hospital management. The payoff will be a smoother operation and more satisfied patients.

Gar F. Bodenheimer BS, CRA, RT (R)(MR) ARRT, is a Senior Radiology Operations Consultant for Change Healthcare.

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