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Telemedicine is used in a wide variety of medical specialities – from orthopaedics, to OB/GYN, to dermatology. But one of the most popular telemedicine niches is teleradiology.
Teleradiology involves transmitting a patient’s X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs from one site to another, usually to a radiologist based at a different location.
Before the internet age, teleradiology mostly involved consulting individual radiologists over the phone for emergent cases. With the advent of the internet, everything changed. Sending CT scans or MRIs digitally and securely became simple. Now, with the visual data and patient health record in front of them, the radiologist can provide an analysis, record it, and send it right back to the patient’s physician.
Teleradiology solutions have expanded rapidly in recent years as a way to address shortages of radiologists, especially sub-specialists, in remote or rural areas. For example, pediatric, musculoskeletal, and neuroradiologists are usually based in cities and only available during certain times of the day.
With teleradiology software, a technician at a small hospital or clinic could take a patient’s x-rays and then share with a physician based at another location for quick diagnosis. Having 24/7 access to a radiologist is especially important for emergent cases, when patients may need a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
The demand for teleradiology solutions will only continue to grow in coming years as the amount of requested imaging procedures outpaces the number of available radiologists. Many teleradiology providers offer health systems access to a team of on-call radiology specialists, licensed for particular states. Healthcare providers can use these teleradiology solutions to gain constant access to teleradiology subspecialties they might not have on staff. This is incredibly valuable to small rural hospitals that may only have one (or no) full-time radiologist on staff.
Teleradiology providers offer a wide range of teleradiology solutions. Most teleradiology software can be categorized as store-and-forward telemedicine solutions, where a healthcare professional can send a patient’s health records and medical images to a radiologist at another location. Since this type of telemedicine is asynchronous, the radiologist can analyze the images, record their notes, and send the records back on their own time. They don’t need to coordinate a meeting time with the patient or physician.
Like other telemedicine store-and-forward solutions, teleradiology solutions need to follow HIPAA regulations to keep all patient data secure. Most software also makes use of technologies like data compression, since most radiologists need to be able to share detailed, high-resolution images.
Some teleradiology providers offer more than just the basic store-and-forward platform. Some solutions add a video component so that the reading radiologist can highlight and annotate the images as they’re being discussed during consult. In these cases, the radiologist can send back the patient record with a audio/video consult attached, rather than just a transcripted or audio recording.
Other teleradiology software systems have an integrated radiology information system (RIS) to archive and share all records. Most teleradiology solutions also include DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) image router applications, which facilitate sharing a wide range of medical images, from mammography, endoscopy, ultrasound etc.
The right teleradiology software for you depend on your needs and the size of your practice. Think about what you really need the solution for. Some teleradiology providers offer a wide range of software solutions with many extra features that you might not need – and will end up paying extra for. Do you want an integrated billing system? Marketing services? Do you need a teleradiology solution that comes with contracted radiologists?
On the other hand, if you are based in a larger health system and will need a wide range of services, you may prefer a teleradiology software that offers an all-in-one solution.
Adopting new software and providing staff training can require a ton of resources and time. If possible, look for a web-based teleradiology solution, or an option that requires less training and implementation. Consider closely what the learning curve of each solution is and how much extra technical support you’ll need to get it up and running.
How will you archive any transmitted medical images and radiology consults? How will these files be incorporated into your patient records? Ask the teleradiology software provider whether they offer EMR integration or compatible radiology information systems (RIS).
Will you be sharing medical images with your patients? If so, you may want to look for a teleradiology solution that connects to your patient portal and give you the ability to grant patient access.
Depending on how much your practices uses mobile devices, you may want a teleradiology software that’s mobile compatible. That way, healthcare providers can pull up medical images and radiology consults on their devices while on the go.
Chances are you’re looking into a teleradiology solution to avoid the expense of hiring a full-time radiologist. A teleradiology solution can be an effective way to expand radiology services while saving money. However, make sure you evaluate all the associated costs. Ask the teleradiology software provider for a detailed pricing quote, in writing. Consider how much additional training or implementation you may need to purchase. Don’t forget to factor in any necessary staff time it will take to get the new software up and running.
Teleradiology software needs to be HIPAA compliant. If you don’t have the IT resources to configure a secure virtual private network (VPN) and set-up a DICOM router, you may want to ask a teleradiology provider if they will help get you set-up.
Teleradiology can be an effective way for small health systems to expand their radiology services and offer 24/7 access. Find the right teleradiology solution now.