Medical professionals have known about imaging access problems in rural counties for a long time, but a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology has confirmed our suspicions: counties that are poor and rural are less likely to have access to a radiologist—particularly subspecialists like neuroradiologists or musculoskeletal radiologists—than counties that are wealthier and urban.
Smaller rural groups of radiologists—which often have less than five partners working most days—can have difficulty covering emergent cases 24/7 as round-the-clock shifts are not viable. The after-hours imaging workload in rural medical centers can be relatively light, but 10 or fewer cases is still more than enough to prevent an on-call radiologists from getting any sleep. The economics are also a challenge as a radiologist covering a night shift will typically lose the entire next day of work—unsustainable for a small group practice.
With the use of teleradiology, a patient in a very rural setting has access to the same level of specialized care available in major urban centers. Teleradiology allows us to aggregate overnight emergency care, so one overnight teleradiologist can stay fully busy providing services to many groups, in turn allowing the on-site radiologists to sleep overnight and be productive again the next day. For these reasons, teleradiology is ideally positioned to help rural areas overcome challenges that many urban areas do not face.
In addition to aggregating overnight emergency work, teleradiology can also aggregate subspecialty work in much the same way. While there may not be enough subspecialty work to keep a neuroradiologist busy in one small rural community, there is enough work when ten communities share the neuroradiologist’s expertise through the power of the internet.
For example, Direct Radiology provides overnight, weekend, and vacation coverage for a solo radiologist who works with a group of small hospitals in Montana. He travels and works from different sites during the week and we cover these facilities when his shifts are over. We also help with underserved areas in western Virginia where they have a substantial workload but a chronic shortage of radiologists.
Teleradiology is a much more feasible and sustainable solution to the lack of subspecialty radiology care in rural areas than geographic redistribution. With the current shortage of radiologists, everyone is having a hard time hiring and rural areas get hit the hardest. Trying to hire on-site radiologists is tough in remote geographic locations and retaining these radiologists can be equally challenging. We consistently field calls from sites that have just lost a radiologist to relocation or and in the current environment it is difficult to quickly find a high-quality replacement. For these important reasons, teleradiology has become indispensable in providing rural populations with the exceptional level of patient care everyone deserves.
Rural patients have always deserved and are now receiving the same level of access to high-quality care as their urban counterparts. Direct Radiology has been working with rural radiologists since our founding and our innovative technology and collaboration tools enable our rural clients to meet their patients’ needs when and where it matters most.
Want to learn more about our work in rural communities? Contact us today.