Radiology No Longer Applying ALARA to Health Data Connectivity

If you're going to RSNA 2013, come see us at Booth 3913 to hear how we're helping radiology practices electronically connect to the referring community and stand out from their competition!

Several years ago I had the pleasure of working at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists. I worked in marketing and served as the editor of the industry's peer-reviewed journal Radiologic Technology. ASRT is a fine organization working to advance the knowledge and causes of RTs, who have a great deal of responsibility working with patients who need any sort of imaging exam, be it MR, CT, PET-CT, x-ray, radiation therapy, nuclear medicine, etc. 

One of the more interesting concepts I encountered while at ASRT was a principle RTs and radiologists are taught in school called ALARA, or As Low As Reasonably Achievable. ALARA is a regulatory safety principle that advocates to expose patients to only the minimum amount of radiation necessary to achieve needed results. Too much radiation causes cancer, which is why it is likely the most important patient care safeguard in radiology.

To date it's my favorite acronym in healthcare because it is applicable to other areas of life. ALARA isn't just a radiation exposure safeguard, it is a concept used in other industries as well. 

In the years that I was at ASRT, circa 2004-2006, the hot topic in the field was transitioning from film and paper files to PACS systems. Not surprisingly, many RTs, especially the more experienced professionals, were reluctant to the changes that were being forced open them by their employers. There was, after all, nothing broken with the way they were doing things. Plus, it required IT knowledge that included terminology and skills that were far outside the realm of anything they had ever worked with before. The letters to the editor (me) were unanimous in their displeasure for the change:

What's the rush to convert to PACS?

Why don't we get any say in the matter?

Implementation of the system was an absolute disaster, I'm so glad it's finally over. ...You get the idea.

Maybe it's no coincidence that those letters were often composed on a typewriter and mailed to me in a white envelope with a stamp. ...Oh, the good 'ol days of 2005.

It looks like the field of radiology and their technologists survived the switch to PACS. Little did they know at the time that the PACS implementation process gave them a great advantage over other health specialties when it comes to adopting new health technology. No surprise, really, since the field is entirely reliant on technology to serve the referring medical community and their patients. That is one reason why I was surprised to learn that radiology practices had initially applied the practice of ALARA to health data integration, especially in light of the changes the rest of healthcare were preparing to make after Meaningful Use was introduced in 2009.

Much like those same letters to the editor I received a decade prior, radiology practices were asking many of the same questions. What's in it for us?

The times have changed once again for radiology. Practices are ditching their ALARA approach to Meaningful Use and connectivity and are taking bold steps that help their services stand out from their competitors. The ability to receive data from a referring facility, incorporate that information into the RIS, and then distribute results back to the referring facility using common health standards is no longer abnormal, it's becoming the norm. And it just so happens it's putting them in prime position to participate in an Accountable Care Organizations.

Radiology is among the fastest growing groups of new Corepoint Health customers. Because radiology IT professionals have experience providing the support and infrastructure for their technical environment, we're seeing some very exciting and creative interoperability solutions for health data exchange, whether it be with the external medical community or internally to optimize workflow.

Pretty exciting times once again for a field that uses some of the most advanced technology available anywhere. Imagine for a second how cool it is that they can capture a three-dimensional CT image of a patient's heart in less time than it takes for the heart to beat one time. Totally awesome.