Connected health

Smart solutions for remote radiology  

Radiology team uses remote scanning to uphold patient care.

7 min
Andrea Lutz
Published on July 3, 2023

The University Hospital Essen established an innovative approach known as remote scanning whereby MRI scans are carried out via remote control.

“We’re facing a shortage of skilled workers, and there actually aren’t enough radiology technologists to meet demand in the labor market,” says Beate Bontke, who is responsible for staff and organizational development at the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at University Hospital Essen. The problem is that there are nowhere near enough applicants to fill the current vacancies. Germany’s labor shortfall runs into the millions, and forecasts show that, by 2035, the healthcare sector will have almost 1.8 million vacant positions that cannot be filled due to a lack of qualified workers.[1] Forty-six percent of German hospitals already face problems when it comes to filling vacancies for medical technologists.[2] Extrapolated to the total number of hospitals, there are currently 1,170 vacancies for medical technologists, 840 of them in the field of radiology.[3] Far from only affecting Germany, this is a Europe-wide problem. University Hospital Essen is exploring several ways of coping with the shortage of expertise. 

Its approaches are all based on combining the targeted deployment of skilled workers with flexible workforce redistribution. The radiology experts in Essen quickly realized that this is one area where smart technical solutions offer a decisive advantage.

Remote scanning allows radiology technologists to work anywhere and at any time. This is a huge opportunity for the field of radiology. 
Watch video

The institute in Essen was involved in the conceptual development of an innovative approach known as remote scanning – whereby MRI scans are carried out via remote control. 
The virtual access allows radiology technologists to control up to three imaging systems – in the case of Essen, MRI scanners – at once, while a high level of standardization helps to boost productivity.

Anton S. Quinsten is Chief Radiology Technologist & IT Administrator at the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at University Hospital Essen, Germany.

Anton S. Quinsten is Chief Radiology Technologist and an expert on innovation management in Essen. He explains how this approach works in practice: “Our scan managers log into the hospital’s network via a secure VPN connection and control the scan from a remote console. This allows our specialists to devote their full attention to the scans. The patient managers are responsible for the correct positioning and care of patients in the MRI scanner and remain in contact with our specialists via a chat function. We can therefore help less-experienced team members operate the equipment at short notice, while experienced specialists can perform scans – up to three at once – while working from home,” says Quinsten.

Experts from University Hospital Essen worked with Siemens Healthineers to develop remote scanning. Watch video

The team in Essen has been using the remote scanning approach for seven years. During the coronavirus pandemic, it quickly became clear that the approach had another advantage: Some of the team could continue working – and controlling MRI scans – from home. This allowed the hospital to continue providing patient care. Now, word has got around that it’s possible to work from home a few days a week – a move that has been well received among sought-after specialists.

Beate Bontke is a specialist nurse for anesthesia and intensive care at the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at University Hospital Essen, Germany.

Specialists in Essen now benefit from flexible scheduling. “We analyzed the entire workflow and considered which processes we could modify. After all, we can no longer allocate two radiology technologists to one device,” says Quinsten. “Remote scanning even allows us to allocate team members who aren’t yet fully trained to use the scanners, because they can always be supported by experienced members of staff. Patient positioning and care can even be assigned to medical students, allowing us to make targeted use of our skilled workers. Likewise, if people want to keep up some of their routine while on parental leave or pregnant, they can continue to work from home.”

What sounds like dry number crunching is primarily aimed at maintaining a certain level of medical care, as Bontke explains: “Here in the radiology institute, we carry out hundreds of thousands of scans each year, and we’ve got just enough specialists to handle that workload. A few years ago, we began exploring new ways of sustaining patient care on a lasting basis. Remote scanning is one such idea – and we’re always developing others.”

In the future, could medical technologists work for several hospitals on a freelance basis and access pending examinations via a platform solution? Watch video.

The remote scanning software syngo Virtual Cockpit1 offers benefits for patients: “The use of patient managers, who are responsible solely for patient positioning and care, leaves more time to prepare patients for scans and explain what exactly is going to happen,” says Quinsten, reporting on his experiences with the system. Many patients are anxious before MRI examinations, because they feel claustrophobic inside the narrow tube, fear a certain diagnosis, or are worried the examination might show their disease has worsened. “Nowadays, our patient managers have the time to exchange a few kind words with patients – and that makes everyone feel better.”

Remote scanning requires syngo Virtual Cockpit software.

Click here to get more information.

By Andrea Lutz
Andrea Lutz is a journalist and business trainer specialized on medical topics, technology, and healthcare IT. She lives in Nuremberg, Germany.