Radiology Digest – August 13, 2021

August 13, 2021

Radiology Digest: News from the week of August 13, 2021.

Radiologists Among the Most In-demand Health Workers, Earning No. 5 Highest Starting Salary
By Matt O’Connor | August 11, 2021 | Included in Radiology Digest – August 13, 2021
Radiologists are among the most in-demand physician specialists in the U.S. and receive some of the highest starting salaries, according to recent figures from Merritt Hawkins.

A majority of requests performed by the healthcare recruiting firm were for physician specialists as opposed to primary care providers, with radiology the third most requested specialty behind only family medicine and nurse practitioners (No.1).

Radiology was also linked to the second most search assignments and job openings, labeled as “absolute demand” by Merritt Hawkins. This, in part, reflects the rising need for rads and the growing use of imaging procedures.

“Demand for both radiology and anesthesiology … are increasing, a clear sign that volume of medical procedures is growing,” authors of the 38-page report wrote. “Whether it is a diagnosis or a procedure, little happens in healthcare without an image.”

At the same time, radiologists are offered one of the highest base salaries, landing at an average of $401,000 per year. The highest wage earners take home $825,000 and the lowest start at $150,000.
While this reflects a 3% year-over-year dip from 2019/2020’s mark of $423,000, it still places the specialty at No. 5 overall. Interventional cardiologists sit atop the field ($611K), followed by orthopedic surgeons ($546K), gastroenterologists ($453K) and non-interventional cardiologists ($446K).

A number of specialties experienced a similar wage dip, led by orthopedic surgeons’ 13% drop, according to the survey. Neurology, non-interventional cardiology and psychiatry all increased year over year, bucking the trend.
To read more, go to Health Imaging.

Radiology Navigators May Save Millions from Malpractice Lawsuits by Closing Gaps in Follow-up Care
By Matt O’Connor | August 10, 2021 | Included in Radiology Digest – August 13, 2021
Implementing a radiology navigator program across a large health system improved follow-up imaging for patients with unexpected findings and can help keep providers out of legal trouble.

Duke University Medical Center piloted its program in October 2019, using experienced radiologic technologists to ensure incidental findings didn’t go overlooked. Navigators utilized tools within the electronic health record to order and schedule follow-up tests and communicate results.

The program worked remarkably well over a 12-month tryout, researchers reported Tuesday in Radiology. Patients and providers received results within a “reasonable” time frame (median of 12 days), and follow-up imaging was scheduled for 60% of unexpected, nonemergent findings, the authors noted.

Furthermore, a “substantial” number of findings turned out to be malignant neoplasms (11%), treatable vascular abnormalities (5%), and other problems (11%) relevant to patients’ long-term health.
The tool may even save rads and others from future problems of their own, Fides R. Schwartz, MD, and co-authors with the Durham, North Carolina, system’s radiology department explained.

“Were these findings not properly communicated and subsequently discovered in a later stage of the disease, they may have led to poor patient outcomes and possibly litigation,” the group added. “The [program] design will provide other radiology departments with a blueprint to implement closed-loop communication,” they commented later.

Duke rolled out the program across its three hospitals between October 2019-2020.

Over 12 months, navigators recorded 3,500-plus exams out of the nearly 750,000 performed across the system. The program led to 2,127 follow-up exams being performed, with more than 1,000 patients referred to primary care providers and specialists.

Nabile M. Safdar, MD, MPH, vice chair of informatics at Emory University’s Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, took a hard look at the study, sharing his thoughts on Aug. 10. He noted the program would require up to four well-qualified employees and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At the same time, failing to communicate results accounts for up to 23% of radiology malpractice claims, according to the ACR. And avoiding even one lawsuit could save millions, Safdar noted.

The study does leave some questions unanswered, and the additional clicks tacked on to daily workflows may dissuade some rads from participating. (A majority of rads and providers found the program useful). But Safdar praised the work.
To read more, go to Health Imaging.

ZOOM Launches Telehealth Mobile Browser
By John Commins | August 10, 2021 | Included in Radiology Digest – August 13, 2021
Online video conferencing provider Zoom announced this week that it is launching a mobile browser that will allow users to join secure telehealth appointments without downloading the app.
The new feature is designed for infrequent users of telehealth or people who may not be tech savvy, according to a post on Zoom’s website.

“Everyone needs healthcare, but not everyone uses technology all the time,” Zoom said. “Some patients unfamiliar with how to download an app may have to spend time on the phone with their doctor’s office to get assistance — which isn’t very convenient if you’re sick and trying to access care. Others may only use Zoom to connect with their doctor once or twice a year and may not want to download an app for that.”

The mobile browser allows patients to receive a Zoom meeting link from their provider via text or email. When the appointment begins, patients simply clink the link and follow the prompts to launch the meeting on their mobile device.

Patients seeking telehealth access on their desktop or laptop computer can join Zoom meetings directly from a web browser, where they click the link and follow the prompts.

Zoom says the mobile browser will also make life easier for providers by streamlining the process, eliminating the need to download an app, and reducing time spent with tech support.

While patients using the browser will have a simplified user interface that is easy to use, providers will get all the benefits of a Zoom app call, including meeting host controls and virtual background. The browser also allows patients more flexibility to schedule appointments from anywhere, as opposed to being chained to a desktop.

In addition, providers can schedule appointments with a feature that simulates a traditional clinical workflow.
To read more, go to Health Leaders Media.

Breast Cancer Screening Numbers Aren’t Bouncing Back to Pre-COVID Levels for Some Imaging Providers
By Marty Stempniak | August 6, 2021 | Included in Radiology Digest – August 13, 2021
A “substantial” deficit of missed mammography appointments is likely deepening breast cancer disparities during the pandemic, according to new research published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

Numerous studies have tracked COVID-19’s harmful impact on the specialty, with screening numbers dropping precipitously during shutdowns last year. Many have since seen patient volumes rebound, however, that isn’t the case for safety-net providers in the Bay Area.

The University of California, San Francisco, has seen its mammography numbers continue to lag and is concerned about worsening outcomes among minority populations.

“In contrast to reports showing recovery of screening volumes, our data highlight persistent low [breast cancer] screening volumes and an absolute decrease in the proportion of completed mammograms among Latinx and Black women,” Ana Velazquez, MD, a thoracic oncology fellow at UCSF, and colleagues wrote Aug. 6. “We hypothesize that these differences by race/ethnicity are multilevel and reflect the effect of worry, competing priorities, limited access, and disproportionate burden and socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 in Latinx and Black communities.”

For their research letter, Velasquez et al. evaluated screening mammography trends at UCSF’s urban safety-net hospital using electronic health record data. In the baseline year of 2019, the hospital recorded 5,662 screening mammograms at an average of 472 per month. That dropped to 3,385 in 2020, which is about 60% of 2019 levels. During the first stay-at-home order in early 2020, screenings dropped to 194 in March (41% of baseline) and zero in April. Missed appointments, meanwhile, leapt to 40% in March 2020, compared to a typical pre-pandemic clip of 21%.

Screening mammograms increased during the reopening phase between June and November 2020, Velasquez and co-authors noted. But monthly tallies still remained below the 2019 baseline, except for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with 496 exams recorded in October. Screenings declined again during the second shutdown, while mobile mammography plummeted from 831 exams down to 248 in 2020. UCSF recorded zero such appointments between April and June of last year.

The safety-net hospital completed roughly 61% of scheduled screening mammograms in January 2021, versus a monthly average of 79% during the baseline period. Compared to pre-COVID numbers, the volume and proportion of mammograms completed decreased across all racial and ethnic groups during the second stay-at-home order. And the proportion of completed exams was lowest among Black women at all time points, younger women during the first shutdown, and patients aged 70 or older during the second stoppage.
To read more, go to Radiology Business.

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill Bolstering Medicare Patients’ Access to Diagnostic Imaging Agents
By Marty Stempniak | August 5, 2021 | Included in Radiology Digest – August 13, 2021
Senators from both political parties on Thursday introduced legislation aimed at boosting Medicare beneficiaries’ access to diagnostic imaging agents.

The Facilitating Innovation Nuclear Diagnostics Act of 2021 would direct Health and Human Services to pay separately for radiopharmaceuticals above a cost threshold of $500 per day. Since 2008, Medicare has treated such drugs as “ancillary” to the procedure, packaging together both the exam and imaging agent, historically resulting in underpayment.

“Innovative technology like diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals are important tools in detecting and treating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who introduced the bill alongside Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. “The FIND Act would increase patient access to more cost-effective treatment options while promoting further research and development opportunities for medical manufacturers.”

Bipartisan representatives also introduced similar legislation in the House last month. Lawmakers at the time noted that current payment rules are preventing safety-net hospitals and other providers from affording imaging agents, leaving patients without access to cutting-edge diagnostics. The bills are budget-neutral and would not require tax increases to cover such care.

Industry lobbying group the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance applauded the Senate proposal on Aug. 5, labeling this as a “nonpartisan issue.”

“The FIND Act provides a legislative solution to modernize CMS payment policies for PET diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals and expand access,” Sue Bunning, MITA’s industry director of molecular imaging and PET, said in a statement, adding that the bill will also encourage innovators, product developers and others to enter the medical technology space.
To read more, go to Radiology Business.

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