2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges for imaging leaders. Throughout the year, you asked us how to navigate the myriad hurdles presented by Covid-19. As we look forward to 2021, we've addressed your top three questions from 2020 to support your planning for the new year.
1. How can we better maintain throughput and assess capacity?
Social distancing and sanitation requirements inevitably slowed throughput. Initially, an average of 10+ minutes were added to each slot time for equipment cleaning; however, we've heard programs cut this time in half as cleaning becomes more routine. Some organizations have even revisited their imaging protocols to cut down the length of scan time, which helps compensate for sanitation requirements. All that said, regional outbreaks lead to unpredictable volumes, often creating backlogs. Leaders should consider adjusting their staffing model by reducing the number of technologists and increasing the number of tech aides to cut costs and better support sanitation needs. Beyond staffing changes, we've seen organizations cross-train technologists to build a more flexible workforce, extend hours, and advertise new hours to speed recovery. Thus, we encourage leaders to adjust and cross-train staff and factor in Covid-19 operational challenges during capacity planning.
To better assess imaging capacity, use the Covid-19 version of our Imaging Capacity Modeling Tool, which allows users to measure weekly capacity while accounting for extended slot times and backlogs.
2. How can I grow my Interventional Radiology program?
Pre-pandemic, imaging programs were pushing for greater investment in interventional radiology (IR) as volumes were rising. While these volumes have been impacted by Covid-19, its clear leaders are looking to factor IR into their 2021 plan. In fact, Covid-19 may have created some innovation in IR, as programs consider remote IR consults as a permanent change for the future. The remote consults allow patients and physicians to meet for the consult, discuss if the procedure is right for the patient, and complete any assessments virtually, saving the patient a trip and capacity in the hospital.
As you look to the future, use our Interventional Radiology Market Estimator to assess IR volumes in your market. We've also outlined five tactics to grow IR services here—including University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center's physician outreach strategies to grow referrals. UCSF recently built on this strategy by surveying physicians and focusing outreach on the channels they prefer, which you can learn about here. It's also important to note that growing any service in 2021 will require overcoming consumer anxiety. You can find our best practices to do that here.
3. What are 'best practice' radiologist turnaround times?
This was the most popular question of 2020, and it isn't surprising—turnaround time (TAT) has been a persistent challenge in imaging. We've classified high performers as organizations that are above the 80th percentile performance for 25% of reported metrics based on our Imaging Productivity and Efficiency Benchmarks. You can use this tool to compare your TAT performance against your peers and see if you're a high performer.
Report turnaround time will continue to be a challenge in 2021, as imaging programs face radiologist shortages, the need to work remote, and continued pressure to speed up read times. We've identified two strategies to improve radiologist efficiency, which you can find here. In particular, Greensboro Radiology experienced a 35-minute overall turnaround time improvement through an investment in an intelligent worklist, which supports workload balancing.
Aside from intelligent worklists, programs should consider other AI tools to help radiologists increase efficiency. One opportunity to keep an eye on is the option for non-physicians reads, as CMS continues to reduce supervision requirements.