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.
Rural groups of radiologists—which may have less than five partners working most days—can have difficulty covering emergency care, and can’t afford to have round-the-clock shifts. Often the on-call work in rural medical centers is relatively light, but even 10 or fewer cases is more than enough to prevent someone from getting any sleep. Economically it’s also very challenging, as a radiologist covering a night shift will typically lose the entire next day of work—unsustainable for a team at a small 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 busy all night long, allowing the on-site radiologists to get a good night’s sleep and be productive again the next day. For these reasons, teleradiology is suited to help rural areas overcome challenges that many urban areas do not face.
In the same way, teleradiology can aggregate overnight emergency work, we can also aggregate subspecialty work. So while there may not be enough work to keep a neuroradiologist busy in one small rural community, there is enough work if we put ten communities together 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 to different sites during the week to work, and we step in when he’s done. 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 an on-site radiologist is tough in these geographic locations, and keeping him or her happy can be even harder. We get a lot of calls from sites that have lost a radiologist to a move or retirement after many years, and in the current environment, it is difficult to find a replacement even after many months or even years of trying. In situations like these, teleradiology is the only way to provide these populations with the patient care everyone deserves.
Rural patients deserve the same access to care as everyone else. Direct Radiology has been working with rural radiologists since the beginning, and our innovative technology and collaboration tools enable our rural clients to meet their patients’ needs when it matters the most.
Want to learn more about our work in rural communities? Contact us today.