No doubt, teleradiology is here to stay. But it’s not the teleradiology that started in the mid-1990s when high-speed communications networks sprung up across the country, making it possible for radiologists to read digital exams anywhere they had a workstation. “Teleradiology grew rapidly in its first 10 years or so,” says Shannon Werb, president and chief operating officer of vRad, a MEDNAX, Inc., company and a radiology practice and teleradiology company. Early on, teleradiology was largely a solution to the need for interpretation of emergent after-hours studies. “Radiology practices would contract with companies like ours, and we would provide overnight preliminary interpretation such that the daytime practice didn’t have to staff the overnight hours,” Werb says. These days, teleradiology is no longer a preliminary service only. Rather, it is an essential part of radiology reading services across the country and throughout the world. Teleradiology has moved from providing preliminary reads off hours to providing subspecialized final reports day and night. “When I started with vRad in 2013, 75% of the volume was preliminary services,” Werb says. “Today, we’re running about 60% final and 40% preliminary.” That shift is representative of the market maturing, which is enabling direct integration of a complete clinical history and results, along with payer enrollment, he says.

What’s driving teleradiology’s adoption today is much more than technology. A big driver, Werb says, is consolidation in health care and the competition among those who remain. The average-size radiology practice in the United States is 10 to 15 physicians, he says. With that few, it’s hard for the practice to have subspecialty capabilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “So we augment their practice, not just at night but also during the day,” Werb says. “Maybe, they need half a neuroradiologist because they have grown volume for neuro exams at a specific site. It’s hard to hire half a neuroradiologist, but we can easily supply what they need in a cost-effective, pay-per-study model. Likewise, as groups are coming together, growing in size, and expanding their services, it becomes increasingly important that they can access a differentiated/subspecialized teleradiology service, enabling that growth to continue.”

Expect to see even more growth in teleradiology over the next few decades. Still, the experts agree, some things have to happen for it to continue on its current trajectory, including radiologists getting over the fear that teleradiology is going to take their work away. “The truth is that teleradiology services like ours partner with practices,” Werb adds. “We’re here to help the practice grow and thrive and provide better services to the health care system overall.” Werb says predatory teleradiology firms were a hot topic five to 10 years ago, “and you hear a lot less about it now because the need to use teleradiology services has become much more prevalent, while the initial concerns just haven’t taken shape.”

Read the full article at Radiology Today Magazine

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