Seeing radiology’s burnout problem with eyes wide open
Estimated reading time: 4-6 minutes
I consider myself a problem solver, so when issues arise, I want to find solutions. There are some issues in healthcare, however, – for which there are no easy answers. The issue of radiology staff stress and burnout is one such intractable challenge.
Numerous reports and articles have quantified the alarming rates of physician and radiologist burnout. This is concerning enough. However, our new Philips research on radiology technologists and imaging directors has shown that they, too, are experiencing high levels of stress and burnout, confirming distributed, systemic stress across the entire imaging department. Before we can hope to 'solve' the problem of burnout in radiology, we must first understand the causes and interdependencies among all stakeholders across the imaging continuum of care.
That’s why Philips commissioned the MarkeTech Group to conduct our Radiology Staff in Focus research report, a double-blind study of 254 radiology technologists (RTs) and imaging directors (IDs) in the US, France, Germany and the UK. Through both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the study assessed RTs and IDs' impressions across a broad range of subjects related to their daily work life. Survey questions measured their job satisfaction, motivations and stressors, technology mastery, communications challenges, and ability to deliver patient-centered care.
What we found out was striking. A significant majority of the RTs we surveyed reported feeling stressed at work on a regular basis (up to 97%, depending on the country), with burnout levels following suit. The biggest factor cited in every geography was workload – an issue that is forecast to get worse as imaging volumes increase. Study respondents were also clear about secondary sources of stress: communication and information flow, staff scheduling, the burden of non-core activities, and lack of appreciation.
But the study results were not all negative. RTs and IDs reported feeling relatively satisfied with their jobs, despite the intense workload. This is clearly related to the motivation both radiology staff and managers find in helping people and taking care of patients, the two factors that scored highest by far among the reasons they cited for choosing their profession. One German radiology technologist had this to say:
Working with patients and helping them to feel better has always been extremely satisfying for me. However, overall patient throughput has increased tremendously for-profit reasons, so time spent with the patient has decreased to close to zero.
When asked what the biggest barrier was to getting the image right the first time, RTs cited lack of patient preparation and patient information as the top contributor (37% combined), with technology factors a close second (36%). Challenges included not being able to spend more quality time with patients, and not having access to the right information at the right time in order to deliver optimal patient care. What was abundantly clear from the survey is that imaging staff are purpose-driven professionals. They chose this profession because they want to help and care for people.
What might a better future look like? Both RTs and IDs pointed to technology as a key part of the way forward, with respondents estimating that up to 23% of their workload could be automated. This is important. With an ever-increasing caseload, an aging workforce, unsubscribed imaging training programs, and high costs of staff recruitment, imaging staff need technology to align around their needs and make their work easier, not harder. For example, at Philips, through a variety of real-time and automated capabilities all focused on patient preparation, we are enabling the support often missing from this critical step of the system which addresses the high correlation (or interdependence) between workflow and imaging staff satisfaction.
When we combine these findings with the insights we gained from our prior research on Enhancing the Patient Experience of Imaging, we see how important it is to improve both the patient and staff experience. If we design technology that fits seamlessly into existing care pathways and eases specific stressors for radiology staff, then we will already be much closer to achieving the goals of the Quadruple Aim: improving the patient and staff experience, improving health outcomes and lowering the cost of care. This is an urgent prerequisite for health systems and technology suppliers as we glimpse the horizon of a new era of Precision Diagnosis and personalized care. All this is possible – but it has to start with listening and understanding radiology staff – with our eyes wide open.
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Kees Wesdorp joined Philips in 2017 to lead Philips’ largest business group, Diagnostic Imaging (DI). DI includes Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computed Tomography (CT), Advanced Molecular Imaging (AMI) and Diagnostic X-Ray (DXR).