By Integrated Care Journal-
In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that without “immediate and substantial action” the world will be short of more than 18 million healthcare workers by 2030. Four years later, and solutions to fill this gap are few and far between.
The answers may lie in technology. Speaking on this at the 2020 Virtual Public Policy Projects Annual Conference, Ben Reed, Product Manager of Syngo & Digital Services for Siemens Healthineers, explained how innovative digital services are changing the way we manage capacity and increase efficiency within radiology and scanning.
Improving scanning and imaging efficiency
As Ben detailed, before we can even begin improving workflow and using innovations, we must be physically able to produce and obtain images - which is proving to be a key pressure point within the sector, often producing bottlenecks in care delivery.
“Before the radiologist can report anything at all,” said Ben, “they have got to get the images. ” Ben pointed to recent findings from the Society and College of Radiographers that highlighted a 15 per cent shortfall in staff last year. Ben also recognised the UK’s low per capita capacity in scanning equipment as another limiting factor. “Add on to that the delays due to Covid wave one, and we've not just got a double, but a triple whammy on our scanning capacity and the backlogs before we even consider staff members who might be shielding or off of work with Covid themselves,” added Ben.
As well as their work in the field and as a major supplier of CT and MRI imaging equipment, Siemens Healthineers has been experimenting with ways for technology to help alleviate workforce pressures.
“We began to think, why not have radiographers working remotely? From operating scanners from different rooms within the hospital, or even from home,” posed Ben. He asked why health providers should limit the scans just to the radiographers that are working there on that day? And why should patients be required to travel to the expert radiographer just to have a specific scan? And why not make better use of that equipment, which is currently only staffed part-time or only working nine to five Monday to Friday? “There are a lot more hours of time available if you've got the resources to do it, which is what we worked to create,” added Ben.
Tackling the workforce crisis in radiology through virtual solutions
It takes years to train radiologists to reach the level of proficiency required to operate complex machines and provide quality care to patients. As Ben pointed out, “that's not a gap that we can fill in five minutes. As imaging continues to grow with more screening programmes, we need many more radiographers than those that have been trained. ”
There are a number of open goals for streamlining and improving patient pathways that are currently not being hit. Having to travel distances for scans can be incredibly disruptive to patients. This is particularly relevant to time-critical cases like those taken after a stroke or heart attack, where patients might be driven to an expert centre, passing all the perfectly suitable scanners where they could be diagnosed more quickly. “If those patients could be scanned and treated sooner, that can have an enormous impact on their outcomes,” reflected Ben.
This is where Syngo Virtual Cockpit – the solution from Siemens Healthineers – comes in. Using this technology, radiographers can access the facilities they need to obtain scans, while not even needing to be in the hospital itself.
Syngo Virtual Cockpit enables one radiographer to sit remotely, connect to the system and manage up to three scanners at the same time. In a typical department, three scanners will take six or sometimes more staff to run. With the virtual cockpit, it is possible to run those same scanners, with maybe four staff, allowing for more flexible working patterns, or just operate with fewer people.
As well as having direct access to the scanner console, video cameras are set up to enable radiographers to see the injectors and inside the scanners, and to communicate using a headset and chat windows with the person sitting physically on the scanner.
“As we continue to face our challenges through this pandemic, and plan for a time beyond, with an enormous backlog of imaging work, now is the time to think about how we might work differently,” Ben concluded.
“Different hours, different places, different processes, but with a single aim across all of them - a better, faster, more flexible diagnostic imaging service. ”
This session was kindly sponsored by Siemens Healthineers
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