The Reading Room

The ins and outs of today's remote radiology market

Stephanie Krent, Imaging Performance Partnership

Members often ask us about the market for teleradiology services: Who are the major players? Who are they targeting? What are they providing? In fact, the market is so rapidly evolving and the answers are so diverse that the phrase “teleradiology” no longer truly applies.

Traditionally, teleradiology companies provided preliminary off-hours (nighttime, weekend, holiday) coverage for hospital emergency departments. Hospital administrators or radiology practice leaders paid companies on a per-click basis and, after radiologists completed the final read, would bill the professional component of interpretation.

Transforming the remote reading landscape

This model still exists, but it is being rapidly outpaced by “teleradiology” companies that seek to emulate traditional radiology providers. These companies, perhaps better called national radiology companies or primarily remote radiology companies, contract directly with hospital administrators.

Because their physicians are based in the US and privileged in many states, they can offer final interpretations for immediate clinical action. They require no direct payment from the hospital; instead, these groups bill Medicare and private payers directly for professional services.

National radiology companies typically boast a deep bench of subspecialty expertise and fast turnaround time. In order to compete with onsite radiologists, companies also offer a variety of value-added services, ranging from video-enabled physician consultations to training courses for radiology nurses and technologists to onsite support from radiologists or physician extenders.

Scoping the size of the market

The growth of the remote reading market can be harder to quantify. Data from the American Journal of Roentgenology and the Journal of the American College of Radiology shows continued growth in the market for third-party remote reading:

Percent of practices using external off-hours teleradiology

External off-hours teleradiology, however, is only one part of the remote reading market. Many hospitals now rely solely on remote reading companies.

And within large radiology practices, it is not uncommon for an increasing number of physicians to interpret exams in remote reading rooms. Just this week, Strategic Radiology, a consortium of 16 independent practices, announced it would launch a remote reading service, SR Subspecialty Telerad Partners.

With no way to quantify the number of radiology practices or hospitals working with such nontraditional remote reading partners, it is clear that the 55% figure from the ACR’s 2011 Annual Meeting and Chapter Leadership Conference is a low estimate.

Thinking About a Switch?

Before you make the jump, learn about new imperatives for radiologist performance from our recent webconference, "The Changing Radiologist Role," and read over some success stories in our 2010 publication, The New Radiology Compact.