Virtual control of diagnostic imaging

How a remote scanning concept could both improve imaging workflow and expand access to specialist medical care.

Helen Baer
Published on October 21, 2020

In the future, the growing need for radiological specialists could lead to more frequent bottlenecks. Now, thanks to the introduction of software to support remote scanning, radiology technologists at Essen University Hospital can operate up to three scanners at the same time regardless of their location.

The number of MRI and CT scans is increasing, but there is a growing shortage of suitable specialist personnel to operate the equipment. According to Professor Michael Forsting, Director of the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at Essen University Hospital, the lack of skilled radiology technologists could become a problem for Germany in the future. “Although there are no bottlenecks in care at the moment, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to staff these services. The system is nearing a tipping point – if we don’t act now, we’ll face a real shortage in a few years’ time and will no longer be able to provide appropriate patient care.” [1]

The shortage of skilled workers is primarily due to the demanding nature of the job, which carries a high level of responsibility – and a considerable workload – for too little pay and involves working at night, at weekends, and on public holidays. Furthermore, the job description has become much more complex in recent years, during which modern diagnostic imaging procedures such as MRI/PET and CT/PET have consistently expanded the range of tasks required at radiology departments.

Continual further training and specialization is required in order to fulfill the principal requirement of the job: creating and processing images of the highest diagnostic quality. The introduction of new IT solutions has transformed the variety of tasks performed by radiology technologists – from scheduling, preparing, and positioning the patients to running the scans and managing the equipment. In particular, the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) means that, in the future, radiology technologists will increasingly take on the role of supervisors. [2]

Professor Michael Forsting, Director of the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at Essen University Hospital

The shortage of qualified personnel was also keenly felt by the radiology department of Essen University Hospital. “If you really have a shortage of technicians and you have to decide every morning whether you have to close a machine, yes or no, that's not really convenient. I mean we totally reduced that down to zero,” says Professor Forsting. The introduction of syngo Virtual Cockpit allows radiology technologists to operate up to three devices at once regardless of their location. It has also been possible to reorganize the original tasks related to patient and scan management thanks to the centralization of specialists in a single “cockpit”.

“We have defined two new areas of work: firstly, patient management at the scanner where a medical assistant supervises and positions patients. And secondly experts, who we call 'virtual imaging specialists' and who we train accordingly,” says Anton Quinsten, senior radiology technologist at the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at Essen University Hospital. On the one hand, the new way of dividing up the tasks makes it much easier for the staff at the scanner to prepare the individual patients as well as ensure a safe operation of the scanner device, while the specialists in the scanning cockpit can focus entirely on creating diagnostic images in order to guarantee consistently high image quality. In addition, the more-efficient workflows make the examination shorter, which simultaneously reduces waiting times for patients.

In addition to everyday clinical practice, syngo Virtual Cockpit also makes it easier to communicate and collaborate with colleagues outside one’s own institution. Physicians and hospitals in structurally weaker regions can link up with specialists and thereby provide optimum diagnostic care. Experienced radiology technologists connect to different devices via remote access and provide less-experienced colleagues with the necessary support for rare or specialized procedures. This saves patients a very long journey in some cases or eliminates the need to transfer them to other facilities.

The introduction of a virtual cockpit leads to a wide range of new capabilities. In turn, these capabilities not only optimize everyday radiological practice in one’s own institution, but also make it easier to provide specialist care in rural areas.

With advancing digitalization, new IT and software solutions are set to play an increasingly significant role in the future when it comes to improving diagnostic accuracy and therapeutic success. “As a radiologist, you’re always pretty open to new technologies, but in the end, our aim is always to increase patient convenience and medical quality – and syngo Virtual Cockpit is a great help in this regard,” says Professor Forsting.

By Helen Baer
Helen Baer is an editor at Siemens Healthineers.