Clarity, Speed and Confidence vs. “Widgets”: The key to MRI efficiency
By: Karen Holzberger, President & CEO of SpinTech MRI
Improving MRI efficiency to improve access to advanced imaging, provider and patient experiences, and health system revenues has been a long-standing goal for radiologists and health system administrators. That’s been true long before the development of radiology AI models for workflow orchestration, task automation and augmented diagnosis.
Radiologists have used a variety of practical and technological methods to improve efficiency, including portable/dockable tables, dedicated prep rooms, and changing the physical layout of the MRI room to reduce the number of steps to and from the machine. AI models have focused on using synthetic data to improve the quality of images produced with subsampled data from shorter scans. While results of those efforts have been promising they also come with drawbacks including implementation time and costs or concerns about AI model training data integrity and security, validation and surveillance, and other data science factors.
Many methods also have been “point solutions” that address highly specific process or workflow objectives instead of providing a more comprehensive approach to optimizing MRI operations and clinical utility. That’s a reflection of both the difficulty of the challenge and the considerable value of MRI as a diagnostic tool.
Addition by subtraction, and widgets
But overall, the industry has been working around the edges of the problem in a form of addition by subtraction, trying to maximize the benefits of MRI while minimizing what seemed to be intrinsic time and resource demands of the technology. As one veteran radiologist told us recently, “We’ve become widget makers. Instead, we need to use the science to align new solutions with how we read and to get us the appropriate pieces of information we need to read with confidence.”
That quote concisely describes how we take on the challenge of improving MRI efficiency with the STAGE software platform. Instead of trying to circumvent the physics of MR with subsampling or synthetic data, STAGE acquires the full data output from MRI sequences. The software then uses post-processing techniques developed from our advanced knowledge of MRI physics.
That physics-driven approach is how we’re able to accelerate brain scan times by an average of 30% while improving image clarity and contrast. It requires no extra steps by the radiologist who can quickly view both pre-processed images and post-processed images generated by STAGE in their familiar workflows. It’s also why STAGE software is compatible with all major makes and models of scanners. As an aside, data output from STAGE is standardized, making it useful for longitudinal studies, for follow-up scans at different imaging facilities, or to train AI models.
Speed is nice, but…
Faster and more scans per day translates into greater access to advanced imaging, better experiences for patients, and increased scanner utilization to improve ROI and health system revenues for administrators. Clearly, speed is good. But what are the benefits for radiologists who already are overloaded with work? After all, giving them more studies to read in a day is hardly a viable way to reduce stress and burnout.
The answer comes from the increased confidence, faster reads and shorter turnaround times that radiologists get with better image clarity from fully sampled data. Clearer images with improved contrast between gray and white matter gives radiologists the tools and information they need so they can manage their workflows without limiting their viewing options or adding steps. It enables them to apply their training, experience, and expertise at peak efficiency. That means higher job satisfaction and reduced stress and burnout.
“Being very good at what I do”
Data from the 2022 Medscape Radiologist Compensation Report support that idea. For example, when asked, “What Is the Most Challenging Part of Your Job?” the top response cited by 25% of respondents was “Having to work long hours.” That was followed by “Having so many rules and regulations” and “Worrying about being sued” both at 19%. To put that another way, they’re trying to keep up with relentlessly growing workloads without running afoul of compliance requirements or worse – a missed diagnosis.
At the same time, the factor that radiologists point to as “the Most Rewarding Part of Your Job?”was, “Being very good at what I am do/Finding answers, diagnoses” at 41%. That was followed by “Knowing that I’m making the world a better place (e.g., helping others)” at 21% and “Making good money at a job that I like” at 16%.
Any professional who cares about the quality of their work can appreciate those responses. It’s the satisfaction that comes not only from proficiency, but from being equipped to apply your skills to full capacity.
In the end, improving MRI efficiency requires more than just speed and shorter scans, better or enhanced image output, and the ability to scale a solution across scanners and imaging facilities. It also requires giving radiologists tools, information and images they need to read, report and apply their expertise with confidence.