Making radiology more efficient – without compromising accuracy – is a vital step in addressing staff shortages and spiralling backlogs. But it’s also how radiology can begin to build a healthier future and raise standards in patient care for the long-term.
As a discipline, radiology continues to be severely understaffed. The Royal College of Radiologists’ Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census 2020 Report published in April 2021, estimates today’s consultant capacity at just a third of the required workforce. Without intervention, that shortfall is expected to hit 44% by 2025.
For radiologists and radiographers, this creates unnecessary pressure to deliver accuracy against unprecedented backlogs. As a result, demoralised radiologists are leaving the NHS in the hundreds.
- 41% moderately or severely demoralised in their jobs post-pandemic
- 48% planning on working less
- 22% considering leaving the NHS
The report also found that a further 12% of radiology consultants were considering leaving in the next 12 months. This is three times more radiologists than would normally leave the NHS each year, equating to the potential loss of 735 consultants and trainees across the whole workforce.
Faster, more flexible, and more efficient ways to report on images have the potential to transform radiology – and reduce the working stresses affecting radiologists as well as addressing the staff shortages affecting the profession. Crucially, achieving new levels of efficiency can also positively impact patient outcomes and raise standards of care.
Helping radiologists deliver exceptional care
With the NHS facing the biggest backlog in its history following the pandemic, patients are waiting longer for diagnostic imaging. According to The Guardian and data from NHS England, the number of people waiting more than three months for tests was 22 times higher in 2021 than in 2019. This March 2022 the numbers have not decreased and are showing the waiting list for diagnostics total 1 million 568 thousand 914 patients, with 24.8% waiting 6+ weeks, resulting in an increase of 0.6% compared with the same month last year, and 9.3% of patients wating in excess of 13 weeks from referral. These numbers will result in added pressure for radiologists, with priority and routine reports seeing them use a multitude of technologies and transcription services – and all combine into one intimidating backlog. The implications of this backlog are severe.
Early diagnosis is a key variable in patient outcomes. Every delay creates risk to patient care – and, ultimately, to lives. In the words of one NHS radiologist: “Patients are presenting with cancers that six months ago may have been curable, but now are inoperable or untreatable.”
To address this challenge and deliver exceptional care, radiology needs change now, today.
Unlocking new levels of efficiency could be key to making this change a reality, starting with individual radiologists and ultimately affecting the entire profession.
Making individuals more efficient
On an individual level, new technology has the potential to help radiologists manage their workloads and accelerate reporting without compromising accuracy.
Augnito AI-driven speech recognition provides a time-saving way to accurately create reports and notes, simply by speaking them into a mic or headset. Available in the cloud with no need for additional hardware or software, Augnito gives every radiologist a much faster way of working – one that helps accurate diagnoses happen sooner.
However, the combination of staff shortages and widespread backlogs isn’t easily overcome. Helping radiologists work faster isn’t effective when there simply aren’t enough radiologists. No amount of working faster or smarter is enough to address the crisis alone.
That said, the efficiency gains of new technology used across individuals could have widespread implications on the entire radiology space.
Efficiency is about more than saving time
Radiologists aren’t new to speech recognition and its potential to save time. But this is just one part of the wider efficiency gains made possible by more recent innovations.
Many Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) and Radiological Information System (RIS) providers have built their operating models around selling and supporting on-premise software. However, as the private sector has consistently demonstrated, true efficiency comes from a more agile, off-premise approach.
When reporting and speech recognition are available in the cloud, the cost and complexity of new technology is significantly reduced. Software like Augnito is available wherever and whenever radiologists need it – without the burden of management and maintenance. Meanwhile, the use of AI in the cloud helps to preserve accuracy in every report.
Of course, this comes with a significant financial advantage. Budgets can be refocussed on the things that matter most, from working environments to patient care. At the same time, radiologists unlock more flexible ways of working, dealing with fewer IT issues and outdated legacy software.
In this way, the benefits of efficiency are compounding – and making radiology more efficient is a vital first step in raising standards for every practitioner and every patient. That’s why digital transformation is a key part the NHS Long Term Plan, with a special focus on ‘using intuitive tools in ways that empower clinicians and reduce the administrative burden’.
The long-term effect of efficient reporting
Immediately, accurate speech recognition can lessen the burden on radiologists, improve workloads, and increase wellbeing and workforce retention. In the medium-term, departments can create considerable time and money savings, focusing more of their resources on delivering the highest levels of patient care.
Under the pressure of the current resource crisis, few trained consultants can invest their time and energy into building the future of their department and the wider discipline. Today, donating time to training new consultants and assisting in teaching simply isn’t a priority. But it’s only with investment in new staff and a concrete digital transformation plan that standards of patient care can be sustainably increased.
Speech recognition promises to liberate radiology from unnecessary admin, error risks and time-consuming transcription. But that’s only possible when software is delivered in a way that’s flexible and scalable. Driven by AI, cloud speech recognition delivers the accuracy, efficiency and agility that today’s radiologists need. And, empowered by the right technology, consultants can begin to steer radiology to a healthier future – one where impossible backlogs, staff shortages and declining standards of care are a thing of the past.
The Royal College of Radiology (RCR) reports unprecedented shortages across diagnostic radiologists – those who enable accurate treatment – and interventional radiologists who treat via non-invasive procedures. By RCR estimates, approximately 2,000 more consultants will be needed just to keep up with pre-pandemic demand for scans and surgery.
This shortfall shows no signs of disappearing any time soon. In fact, it’s expected to grow to 44% by 2025. It’s a concerning situation and the number of demoralised radiologists looking to work less and leave the NHS is even more worrying.
Without staff, patients face longer waits for radiology services and treatment, missing out on crucial early diagnoses and life-saving image-guided surgery.
Why the shortfall?
While the pandemic exacerbated the problem, the radiology shortage isn’t new or unique to radiology.
Other specialty technologists such as ultrasound, radiation therapy, MRI and CT are also reporting staffing shortfalls. Issues such as low pay, extended working hours, an ever-growing workload and outdated IT equipment or poor connectivity are long-standing NHS problems.
Now, the pandemic has worsened a significant challenge, with the potential healthcare workforce exploring new horizons thanks to remote or hybrid working, and shifting life priorities.
Avoid the radiology understaffing domino effect
To address staff shortages, new ways of working are critical. Without more consultants in training, improved staff retention and recruitment, expanding budgets and better staff support, the way things are done must change.
As a result, radiology reporting equipment and technology need to be fit for purpose, up-to-date and ahead of the curve where possible.
Ensuring that diagnosis and reporting are both as accurate and timely as possible is of the utmost importance. Otherwise, we are left with the growing alternative – delays that create a rapid decline in patient care standards. This impacts treatment outcomes and lives, which in turn creates a domino effect of impacts.
It is not just the radiology and healthcare sectors that will be failing in their duty of care. If consultants do not receive the right information, at the right time, they are unable to diagnose. Meanwhile, relevant supporting staff will be affected by the extra workloads that reporting delays cause. It will ultimately be the patient that suffers, along with all those that depend or surround them: families, businesses, communities, and the economy.
Technology is not a cure for the NHS and radiology, but it can help. AI-powered clinical speech recognition solutions empower practitioners and save time. Cloud-based applications let radiologists, clinicians and healthcare staff report and enter patient data whenever and wherever it’s needed. The right technology helps staff do more in less time, more accurately, and without the location and connectivity constraints of older legacy systems.
Invest in the right speech recognition technology
Speech recognition technology is not new to radiologists. But not everyone has access to the latest benefits that cloud and AI voice-driven clinical SR solutions deliver. Speech recognition has changed in the last 15 years and continues to evolve. Today’s solutions equip radiologists to tackle the heavy lifting of reporting – and address backlogs – while mitigating the increase in reporting demand.
Radiologists need a solution that is future-proof and provides the latest in voice-driven AI. But making this change can be daunting.
As the developers of Augnito, we are a recent newcomer to the health-tech sector, but born with a strong dictation and transcription heritage thanks to our 20-year partnership with the NHS. We have seen the applications and technology that promised to fix clinical documentation backlogs but failed. In many cases, they created bigger problems.
Our advice to customers would be to seek a speech recognition solution that offers simplicity and accuracy.
- Accuracy: to avoid mistakes and errors in data entry – a solution that understands radiology vocabulary, even when spoken with the strongest of accents.
- Efficiency: to allow reports to be compiled easily and instantly.
- Simplicity: to enable the user to ‘speak and report’ – a solution that works out of the box, without the need for typing, copying parts of documents, or sending files for transcription. And a solution that is cloud-based, not needing new versions or upgrades installed locally, and therefore keeping the IT burden low.
- Costs: that provide scalability and flexibility – a solution that works within departmental budgets without high investment in user training, hardware, software, or infrastructure.
- Time: to create instant reports, invest in patient care, and invest in the future of radiology – without having to spend hours searching patient records and notes, or contacting technical support to assist with system downtime and workflow issues.
Augnito provides a speech-enabled reporting solution that bolsters the capabilities of radiology teams and lets them be deployed where they are needed the most. Instead of restructuring specialists to cover radiographer or reporting tasks, Augnito allows radiologists to diagnose and report on patient cases directly. This means faster reporting, enriched patient data, and reduced clinical risk.
Radiology staff should feel confident in the technology that is available to support them, so they can deal with the demands of their day-to-day as easily and efficiently as possible. Secure cloud-based speech recognition is the key – and Augnito is a good start.
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In this post we outline how new speech recognition technology is driving accuracy – and informed decisions – across radiology, addressing the challenges caused by widespread staff shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic.Across the NHS and healthcare generally, the past few years have been extremely challenging. Pre-pandemic, the burden on healthcare professionals was already significant. Now, practitioners are under more pressure than ever before.
As a key part of the diagnostic process, the pressure is perhaps nowhere more acute than in radiology. During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 63.2% of radiographers reported an increase in their workplace-related stress levels. This was the result of uncertainty in their working environment and major changes to routine departmental protocols. These protocols continued to change in the 24 months that followed. The combination of demand, low capacity and redeployment across diagnostic screening services saw a strained discipline reach breaking point.
With all this pressure, accuracy is at risk. That said, the challenges radiographers and radiologists face didn’t start in March 2020.
Rising strain across radiology in the UK
Staff shortages in radiology are nothing new. The Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census Report 2018 highlighted a severe lack of radiology consultants. Three quarters of radiology clinical directors, then, didn’t feel they had enough radiology consultants to deliver safe patient care.
Unsurprisingly, the CQC’s 2018 Radiology Review measured slow reporting times across the NHS. One NHS Foundation Trust held a backlog of 33,400 unreported images, despite attempts to recruit more radiologists and use outsourced support at great expense.
In the years since, the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these challenges. With remote working tested by necessity, Trusts increasingly moved to remote/home and hybrid ways of working. However, this added an additional set of issues and risk for both radiologists and radiology reporting, owing to a significant increase in IT burden and technological challenges, as identified in the Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census Report 2020 published in April 2021.
Even where the most forward-thinking Trusts had already embraced voice recognition technology, few were equipped for making these solutions available from, and to, where they were needed. As a result, most radiologists reverted back to typing their reports, or sending audio files for manual transcription by hospital administration staff or an outsourced transcription service.
In this climate of time pressure and increased image load – now worsened by the pandemic and its associated backlog – radiologists needed and still need comprehensive technological support to work effectively, productively and accurately.
Beyond equipment and capacity
Efforts to improve radiology across the NHS are emerging. The UK Treasury’s 2020 Spending Review earmarked £325 million for investment in new diagnostic imaging equipment. However, the sector remains critically understaffed – by 33% in 2020 and forecast to increase to 44% by 2025.
Technology alone can’t rapidly reduce the workforce shortfall. But replacing outdated hardware, devices and software as well as improving remote connectivity to clinical systems will help reduce errors, drive accuracy, increase efficiency and improve patient outcomes. Technology beyond imaging equipment and connectivity also has an important role to play in helping radiologists feed accurate information into the diagnostics process. Cloud is the key.
Cloud-based speech recognition solutions can transform radiology reporting. They provide ease of access, reduce delays and the risk of errors, and give radiologists and radiographers a consistent reporting experience, even when they’re working remotely.
Empowering radiologists to work accurately
To maximise their impact on reporting quality, speech recognition (SR) solutions need to go beyond accuracy. They need to make this accuracy available everywhere, seamlessly integrated with existing technology.
Radiology Information Systems (RIS) and Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) are undergoing an evolution. Innovations like SR are helping radiologists interpret and report on images faster. And, crucially, they’re designed to preserve accuracy in a way that simply wasn’t possible a decade ago. Meanwhile, NHS Trusts are moving toward a vendor neutral archive (VNA) – a way to store medical images in a standard format and make them accessible to professionals across a range of systems.
Augnito’s AI-driven SR and voice transcription technology is already being integrated into platforms from Hexarad (a teleradiology service provider) and products from Wellbeing Software, including Cris, the UK’s most widely used RIS.
Augnito brings flexibility and accessibility to radiology: as a SaaS and cloud-based solution that’s easy to implement and use, with no need for additional hardware or on-premise software.
Augnito is building the foundations for the future of radiology. Through voice, clinicians can unlock entirely new ways of working – and capture the accurate detail that practitioners and patients depend on.
Bringing confidence back to radiology
With reports instantly transcribed and fed into clinical systems, SR can significantly ease the IT and technological challenges that radiology has experienced in the last two years and reduce the burden on radiologists. Many existing users report time savings per day. But what radiologists really need is technology they can feel confident about – a way to guarantee that information is not only fast to capture, but accurate to the highest standards.
Innovative AI creates technology that radiologists can count on to deliver the precision they would expect from a committed team, or handwritten report. Augnito preserves the accuracy that every radiologist expects.
Augnito also has the potential to take accuracy even further – not just maintaining standards but taking them to new levels. Fundamentally, by reducing the stress and administrative strain on radiologists, Augnito unlocks more time to apply skills – to interpret and analyse images, before making accurate, informed decisions.
Preserving accuracy is at the core of what Augnito’s AI-powered SR can do, and by better supporting radiologists, we can help reshape the industry for a better, more accurate future.