Patient-centered care and technology: a powerful partnership

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Dr K. Elizabeth Hawk

Jan 14, 2020 - reading time 6 mins

Kristina Elizabeth Hawk, MS MD PhD is a Nuclear Medicine Physician and Neuroradiologist. Dr. Hawk has held multiple local and national leadership positions, including positions in the American College of Radiology (ACR), the American College of Nuclear Medicine (ACNM) and the Society of Nuclear and Molecular Medicine (SNMMI). Dr. Hawk is an editorial board member of the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR). She has served as the Vice-Chair for Education for the Nuclear Medicine Resident Organization of the ACNM, and the Educational Liaison for the Resident and Fellow Section of the ACR. Currently, she serves on the national ACR Commission for Women and General Diversity as well as the ACR Commission on Nuclear Medicine. Dr. Hawk also sits on the ACR Council Steering Committee.

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As a practicing radiologist, there’s a question that keeps me up at night: am I doing all that I can to provide value to my patients?

Patient-centered care and technology: a powerful partnership

My patient is at the very heart of all I do, so I’m constantly putting myself in my patient’s shoes and ensuring that what I am doing is useful and makes a meaningful contribution to the patient’s care, so that the time, effort and anxiety associated with a staging examination is worth it. But I also feel an obligation to consider the patient of tomorrow. To ensure we can make meaningful contributions in the future, radiologists must cast a critical eye on recent technological advancements. Many won’t add value, but some will redefine what it means to deliver it. 


Many of these innovations are a new attempt at old medical wisdom and reflect something I’ve long believed in: truly involving a patient in their care. This can mean empowering them with access to their reports or making sure they understand what’s going on with their health. In my experience, patients fare better when they are guided through a journey that can be challenging, and one they may have never anticipated. And I’m not alone: the 2019 Future Health Index report found that 82% of those with access to their digital health record (DHR) described their personal experience of care as good, very good or excellent, compared to 66% of those without access. This is value, by any measure. 


Radiologists were once called ‘the doctor’s doctor’ because of our ability to connect the dots on a case. Thanks to our understanding of both technology and patient-centered care, I think we can justifiably reclaim this title. My fellow radiologists have a reputation for being particularly keen to embrace these new offerings. This is also borne out in the 2019 Future Health Index report; it showed that 56% of radiologists reported AI use in their practice compared to 46% of healthcare professionals. And, of those who do use AI, more radiologists are doing so to flag anomalies (56%) and improve the accuracy of diagnosis (53%) than healthcare professionals (46% and 45% respectively). 


But technology is only ever as useful as the value it helps us deliver. When I first encounter new digital health technology, I take a step back and assess how it can help me to deliver better patient-centered care. I need to be convinced that it’s meaningful and impactful, and not just some exciting new widget that is of little use to my patients. I use this same judgement whether I’m dealing with a simple scheduling program, something that helps me embed best-practice recommendations into my report, or a cutting-edge imaging tool. Once I am satisfied, I will do all I can to embrace this new advance for the sake of my patients.

AI’s transformative role in radiology

AI, for example, clearly has the potential to flag positive findings on a CT examination or an X-ray and bring them to a radiologist’s attention quicker than can be achieved currently. But that’s not where its real power lies. I’m most excited by the ways in which AI can be integrated across the patient experience – from scheduling and patient access to healthcare records, through to how those records integrate into their imaging experience. And, on the front end, AI can fine-tune how images are acquired and then processed before they even make the radiologist’s desk. It’s the cumulative effect of these smaller points that will help us enhance the patient care experience across the radiology continuum. The ultimate result? Increased value for all of us.


Well-designed technology like this also makes a physician’s task easier by giving them more control over their work and enabling deeper interactions with their patients and colleagues. The best technology reduces the time physicians spend on mundane tasks, simplifies their work, and allows them to focus on the meaningful art of medicine. It’s a win-win trickle-down effect that will ultimately help reduce physician burnout, while helping radiologists feel more involved in and empowered by our work.

A new way to communicate

To realize technology’s potential to help us achieve the goal of truly patient-centered care, however, we need a culture shift within radiology. It’s not just about physician anxiety regarding how AI can impact on role and workflow; it’s broader than that. 


For patient-centered care to become a reality, we need to break down the barriers between clinical practice physicians, academia and technology organizations – all the actors at play in this area – and get them on the same page and within the same culture. The language that the radiologist uses when discussing AI is different to that of the data scientist who builds the algorithm for the radiology tool. Opening these lines of communication and understanding will help lead to solutions that increase technology adoption and improve the patient experience. 


My role as a radiologist is constantly evolving. This frequent change can be daunting, but it can also be exhilarating. My colleagues and I are committed to innovating, while remaining utterly focused on our patients and on achieving value-based care. 


There’s another question I ask myself that helps me to refocus on delivering value. I pause and think of each patient as if they were my family member. Then I ask myself, “am I delivering the care and giving them the individual time and attention in that moment that I would want my family member to be given?” A creative mindset and always striving for improvement as technology offers us new solutions will ensure we can continue answering “yes” to this question.

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