Making radiology more efficient – without compromising accuracy – is a vital step in addressing staff shortages and spiralling backlogs. But it’s also how radiology can begin to build a healthier future and raise standards in patient care for the long-term.
As a discipline, radiology continues to be severely understaffed. The Royal College of Radiologists’ Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census 2020 Report published in April 2021, estimates today’s consultant capacity at just a third of the required workforce. Without intervention, that shortfall is expected to hit 44% by 2025.
For radiologists and radiographers, this creates unnecessary pressure to deliver accuracy against unprecedented backlogs. As a result, demoralised radiologists are leaving the NHS in the hundreds.
An RCR poll of 1,089 UK radiology consultants at the start of April 2021 found:
- 41% moderately or severely demoralised in their jobs post-pandemic
- 48% planning on working less
- 22% considering leaving the NHS
The report also found that a further 12% of radiology consultants were considering leaving in the next 12 months. This is three times more radiologists than would normally leave the NHS each year, equating to the potential loss of 735 consultants and trainees across the whole workforce.
Faster, more flexible, and more efficient ways to report on images have the potential to transform radiology – and reduce the working stresses affecting radiologists as well as addressing the staff shortages affecting the profession. Crucially, achieving new levels of efficiency can also positively impact patient outcomes and raise standards of care.
Helping radiologists deliver exceptional care
With the NHS facing the biggest backlog in its history following the pandemic, patients are waiting longer for diagnostic imaging. According to The Guardian and data from NHS England, the number of people waiting more than three months for tests was 22 times higher in 2021 than in 2019. This March 2022 the numbers have not decreased and are showing the waiting list for diagnostics total 1 million 568 thousand 914 patients, with 24.8% waiting 6+ weeks, resulting in an increase of 0.6% compared with the same month last year, and 9.3% of patients wating in excess of 13 weeks from referral. These numbers will result in added pressure for radiologists, with priority and routine reports seeing them use a multitude of technologies and transcription services – and all combine into one intimidating backlog. The implications of this backlog are severe.
Early diagnosis is a key variable in patient outcomes. Every delay creates risk to patient care – and, ultimately, to lives. In the words of one NHS radiologist: “Patients are presenting with cancers that six months ago may have been curable, but now are inoperable or untreatable.”
To address this challenge and deliver exceptional care, radiology needs change now, today.
Unlocking new levels of efficiency could be key to making this change a reality, starting with individual radiologists and ultimately affecting the entire profession.
Making individuals more efficient
On an individual level, new technology has the potential to help radiologists manage their workloads and accelerate reporting without compromising accuracy.
Augnito AI-driven speech recognition provides a time-saving way to accurately create reports and notes, simply by speaking them into a mic or headset. Available in the cloud with no need for additional hardware or software, Augnito gives every radiologist a much faster way of working – one that helps accurate diagnoses happen sooner.
However, the combination of staff shortages and widespread backlogs isn’t easily overcome. Helping radiologists work faster isn’t effective when there simply aren’t enough radiologists. No amount of working faster or smarter is enough to address the crisis alone.
That said, the efficiency gains of new technology used across individuals could have widespread implications on the entire radiology space.
Efficiency is about more than saving time
Radiologists aren’t new to speech recognition and its potential to save time. But this is just one part of the wider efficiency gains made possible by more recent innovations.
Many Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) and Radiological Information System (RIS) providers have built their operating models around selling and supporting on-premise software. However, as the private sector has consistently demonstrated, true efficiency comes from a more agile, off-premise approach.
When reporting and speech recognition are available in the cloud, the cost and complexity of new technology is significantly reduced. Software like Augnito is available wherever and whenever radiologists need it – without the burden of management and maintenance. Meanwhile, the use of AI in the cloud helps to preserve accuracy in every report.
Of course, this comes with a significant financial advantage. Budgets can be refocussed on the things that matter most, from working environments to patient care. At the same time, radiologists unlock more flexible ways of working, dealing with fewer IT issues and outdated legacy software.
In this way, the benefits of efficiency are compounding – and making radiology more efficient is a vital first step in raising standards for every practitioner and every patient. That’s why digital transformation is a key part the NHS Long Term Plan, with a special focus on ‘using intuitive tools in ways that empower clinicians and reduce the administrative burden’.
The long-term effect of efficient reporting
Immediately, accurate speech recognition can lessen the burden on radiologists, improve workloads, and increase wellbeing and workforce retention. In the medium-term, departments can create considerable time and money savings, focusing more of their resources on delivering the highest levels of patient care.
Under the pressure of the current resource crisis, few trained consultants can invest their time and energy into building the future of their department and the wider discipline. Today, donating time to training new consultants and assisting in teaching simply isn’t a priority. But it’s only with investment in new staff and a concrete digital transformation plan that standards of patient care can be sustainably increased.
Speech recognition promises to liberate radiology from unnecessary admin, error risks and time-consuming transcription. But that’s only possible when software is delivered in a way that’s flexible and scalable. Driven by AI, cloud speech recognition delivers the accuracy, efficiency and agility that today’s radiologists need. And, empowered by the right technology, consultants can begin to steer radiology to a healthier future – one where impossible backlogs, staff shortages and declining standards of care are a thing of the past.