Boost MRI Efficiency and Productivity: A Radiologist’s Outlook

In an era of cost reductions, radiology departments have no choice but to look at ways to boost MRI efficiency and productivity without sacrificing patient safety or care. With the goal of enhancing the patient experience, reducing costs and improving the work life of healthcare providers, the MRI industry is moving towards an outcome-based approach focused on speed, patient comfort and confidence. Philips global MRI business leader, Arjen Radder, recently talked with cardiac radiologist, Dr. Christoph Juli, about how focusing on the patient can boost the productivity and efficiency of MRI procedures. We found his insight to be valuable and wanted to share it with you.

Arjen Radder, Philips: When Philips hosted its #theNextMRWave livestream panel discussion a couple months ago with radiologists from around the world, I found it most interesting that the consensus of all these experts was that we cannot narrow it down to a single method when it comes to the best way to improve diagnostic confidence in MRI without compromising productivity or patient comfort. To me, that underscores the complexity of the challenge in imaging and the value of an integrated, outcome-focused solution.

Dr. Christoph Juli, radiologist: That’s exactly right. Diagnostic confidence is a balance of both art and science; it’s imprecise and intuitive as well as researched, measured and objective. We need to focus on many areas: improving image quality through clinical innovation; exploring AI to advance diagnostic confidence; adopting quantitative imaging techniques for decision support; and training and educating our staff.

Arjen Radder, Philips: Speed, comfort and confidence used to be competing factors in MRI but they are not anymore. What excites you the most about recent MRI technology advancements and how it can impact patient care?

Dr. Christoph Juli, radiologist: The breakthroughs in speed in MRI technology is opening up a whole new area of potential for better diagnostic confidence and screening of diseases (e.g. body composition imaging) that were not feasible before due to the length of MRI scans. With technology such as Philips Compressed SENSE used with MRI, we can make imaging exams faster than before with high image quality even with a demanding cardiac exam. It is particularly important in cardiology where early detection of heart disease or prediction of heart failure – before a heart attack happens unexpectedly – can make a significant impact on patient outcomes.

Arjen Radder, Philips: During the panel discussion at #theNextMRWave Livestream event, one of the attendees asked, “With such huge pressures on productivity, is comfort really as important as speed and confidence?” You had an interesting answer on the importance of comfort that reinforced some of the feedback we received from real patients in our Patient Experience of Imaging Research that in addition to comfort they value communication and trust in the doctor. Can you explain your thoughts on it in more detail?

Dr. Christoph Juli, radiologist: What some people don’t understand is how the comfort of the patient, or lack thereof, affects productivity or speed and diagnostic confidence. If a patient isn’t comfortable then there is a greater chance that they may move during the exam which creates motion artifacts and affects image quality and diagnostic confidence. It could also mean they need to do a rescan which impacts productivity. More comfort-oriented features in MRI machines do make a difference for many patients, particularly for those with high body mass index (BMI) or claustrophobia. However, comfort in and of itself is not the only answer. For some tests, it will be uncomfortable and while we can do things to try to make it as easy as possible for the patients to get through the exam, there will be discomfort and there’s no way around it. So, to me, the term “comfort” and the importance of it, must also be combined with communication and support from the staff to get patients through the discomfort of the exam.

Arjen Radder, Philips: That’s a great point and, there’s research that backs up what you’re saying about the need to support and involve patients throughout the entire exam process. In a recent MRI global study of 40 radiologist and radiographers globally, SuAzio Consulting found that MRI efficiency gains can be made by implementing a stronger patient focus and involving the patient more in the examination process.[1] The survey also found that 45% of interviewees were not aware of technologies that can improve patient compliance, reduce rescans and minimize patient motion. This tells me that there’s still a lot we need to do in terms of awareness about the important link between MRI productivity and patient-centered imaging. Patients who feel comfortable and secure make it easier for staff to acquire high-quality images and that correlates to MRI efficiency and productivity key performance indicators (KPIs).

Dr. Christoph Juli, radiologist: Yes, that is correct. We are making tremendous progress on the speed of MRI scans and equipment but “patient factors” like comfort or communication that contribute to MRI scan efficiency are a bit more complicated as every patient is different, every exam is different and each technologist performing the scan is different. There are better ways to increase patient compliance and reduce the need for rescans. Hospitals and imaging centers should seek out MRI equipment and technology that can provide positive and active distraction, as well as procedural guidance, for patients. The other key aspect is training staff how to provide comfort, support, safety and communication for patients throughout the process to address the other subtle factors that impact the patient experience and compliance.

Arjen Radder, Philips:  I couldn’t agree more on the need for positive and active distraction for patients with MRI exams. Using Philips Ambient Experience, patients can select a theme before entering the imaging room, offering a relaxing environment of their choice by projection of images, ambient lighting and sound.  From the moment the patient is moved into the scanner, Ambient Experience In-bore Connect helps the patient feel comfortable, by providing directions like breath hold and time duration that you mention as being very important.

Arjen Radder, Philips: Let’s talk a bit about staff now in the imaging department. When you talk about the importance of investing in staff, we know training to use the equipment effectively and understand images is paramount but improving the staff experience and reducing staff burnout are significant concerns for hospitals as well. According to recent research by the Advisory Board Company, one of the key imperatives for radiology leaders is to limit turnover and burnout of their current workforce because of the tangible impact it has on quality, cost, productivity and the health of radiologists.[2] In particular, declining reimbursements is one of the top four contributors to burnout. How do you see the issue of radiologist shortages and burnout impacting healthcare today and what strategies do you use to address it in your own role as a radiologist?

Dr. Christoph Juli, radiologist: I agree that it is an issue globally that affects healthcare. While there are some common global reasons such as radiologist shortages, there is also some specific ones to each hospital and each country. So, the ways of solving radiologist shortages and burnout will be addressed differently. Artificial intelligence is one way we can help reduce burnout by using AI to reduce the mundane, time-consuming or routine tasks that are part of the job of a radiologist so they can focus their time on higher-level concerns.

In terms of reimbursements, that is a pressure we all are faced with in healthcare and it can be stressful. For example, the Swiss government has decreased our reimbursements significantly. So now we are using the new Philips Ambition MRI platform together with Compressed SENSE to shorten examination times to handle the higher volumes of patients as a result of the reduction in reimbursement. This enables us to continue to deliver great image quality, put the focus back on patients and ultimately, helps to reduce staff burnout.

In the end, the value of the MRI outcome-based solution is not just about looking for short-term gains or meeting reimbursement metrics. It’s about finding long-term solutions to drive efficiency, effectiveness and lower costs while improving the patient and staff experience and imaging outcomes.