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Mitigation Tactics Discovered During COVID-19 with Long-Term Report Turnaround Time and Burnout Reduction Benefits

Published:April 21, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acra.2022.04.016

      Rationales and Objectives

      The purpose is to describe a hybrid teleradiology solution utilized in an academic medical center and its outcomes on radiology report turnaround time (RTAT) and physician wellness.

      Materials and Methods

      During coronavirus disease 2019, we utilized an alternating teleradiology solution with procedural and education attendings working in the hospital and other faculty remote to keep the worklist clean. RTAT data was collected for remote vs. in house emergency department (ED) and inpatient cases over a 6-month period. Pre and post implementation burnout surveys were administered.

      Results

      RTAT significantly improved for ED and inpatient MR and CT, and inpatient US and radiographs when interpreted remotely compared to in-hospital. Physician wellness scores improved and open-ended comments reflected positive feedback about the hybrid work solution. 74% enjoyed the autonomy and flexibility, and 51% said the solution positively influences my desire to remain in my current institution and improves their clinical and/or academic productivity.

      Conclusion

      Hybrid work from home solutions allow faculty autonomy and flexibility with work-life balance, improving wellness. It is important to alternate the at-home faculty to maintain interdepartmental relations, particularly for junior faculty, and prevent isolation. The hybrid solution also demonstrated improved patient care metrics, possibly due to decreased distractions at home compared to the reading room.

      Key Words

      INTRODUCTION

      Addressing burnout and promoting physician wellness is a strategic imperative for leadership across the country so that clinical operations are not compromised. Burnout is present in 49-72% of diagnostic radiologists (
      • Bundy JJ
      • Hage AN
      • Srinivasa RN
      • et al.
      Burnout among interventional radiologists.
      ,
      • Shanafelt TD
      • Boone S
      • Tan L
      • et al.
      Burnout and satisfaction with worklife balance among US physicians relative to the general US population.
      ,
      • Chew FS
      • Mulcahy MJ
      • Porrino JA
      • et al.
      Prevalence of burnout among musculoskeletal radiologists.
      ,
      • Pulcrano M
      • Evans SRT
      • Sosin M
      Quality of life and burnout rates acrosssurgical specialties: a systematic review.
      ). Radiology is the seventh highest specialty reporting burnout, compared to prior rank of 15th (
      • Harolds JA
      • Parikh JR
      • Bluth EI
      • et al.
      Burnout of radiologists: frequency, risk factors, and remedies: a report of the ACR commission on human resources.
      ). Radiology residents also have a high self-reported level of burnout at 36.2%, with 64.8% reporting sleep-related impairment (
      • Higgins MCSS
      • Siddiqui AA
      • Kosowsky T
      • et al.
      Professional fulfillment, intention to leave, and sleep-related impairment among radiology trainees across the United States (US): a multisite epidemiologic study.
      ). Burnout may manifest as disruptive physicians, apathy, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization, and in some cases, leaving the workforce (
      • Canon C
      • Chick JFB
      • Dequesada I
      • et al.
      Physician Burnout in radiology: perspetives from the field.
      ).
      Previous research has shown that lack of autonomy and decision-making power in the workplace are negatively associated with occupational burnout (
      • W Hales T
      • H Nochajski T
      • A Green S
      • et al.
      Twelve-month organizational study examining the associations among behavioral healthcare worker's perceptions of autonomy, decision-making power, organizational commitment, and burnout: reconceptualizing the role of commitment in shaping staff member experiences of the work environment.
      ). Potential causes of burnout specific to radiology include lack of autonomy/control over work, hamster-wheel of productivity and PACS worklists, lack of recognition, Electronic medical record (EMR), lack of meaningfulness of work, and long work hours (
      • Canon C
      • Chick JFB
      • Dequesada I
      • et al.
      Physician Burnout in radiology: perspetives from the field.
      ,
      • Giess CS
      • Ip IK
      • Gupte A
      • et al.
      Self-reported burnout: comparison of radiologists to nonradiologist peers at a large academic medical center.
      ,
      • Fishman MDC
      • Mehta TS
      • Siewert B
      • et al.
      the road to wellness: engagement strategies to help radiologists achieve joy at work.
      ). Other causes may include frequent workroom interruptions/noninterpretive work and reading exams on evenings and weekends.
      Teleradiology, first practiced in the 1990’s, can minimize workroom interruptions (

      Silva III E, Breslau J, Barr RM, et al. ACR white paper on teleradiology practice: a report from the task force on teleradiology practice. 2013

      ). Whereas prior to the pandemic, internal teleradiology was primarily used for on-call and weekend coverage (
      • Prabhakar AM
      • Glover 4th, M
      • Schaefer PW
      • et al.
      Academic radiology departmental operational strategy related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
      ) this changed rapidly in March 2020 (
      • Zhu N
      • Zhang D
      • Wang W
      • et al.
      A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019.
      ,
      • Bruno MA
      • Petscavage-Thomas J
      Brief communication: a departmental ‘command center’ to facilitate staff safety and patient care during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
      ) as many radiology practices moved to or increased their use of internal teleradiology to ensure a reserve of radiologists with lower exposure to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (
      • Zhu N
      • Zhang D
      • Wang W
      • et al.
      A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019.
      ,
      • Malhotra A
      • et al.
      ) who could sustain operations.
      A survey of US radiologists during the first month of the pandemic showed that implementation of teleradiology was perceived favorably, with 64.8% reporting decreased stress levels and 64% decreased workroom interruptions (
      • Quraishi MI
      • Rizvi AA
      • Heidel RE
      Off-site radiology workflow changes due to the coronalvirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Case studies in clinical practice management.
      ). 79% reported no change in report turn-around time (RTAT) and no loss of what remains of interprofessional communication (
      • Yacoub JH
      • Swanson CE
      • Jay AK
      • Cooper C
      • Spies J
      • Krishnan P
      The Radiology Virtual Reading Room: During and Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic.
      ). That study also found that more than half planned to continue workday teleradiology after the pandemic. However, no follow up data has been presented to assess the long-term radiologist attitudes and RTAT productivity data using workday internal teleradiology.
      As the transition to the endemic phase of COVID-19 has occurred we have maintained a hybrid internal teleradiology model. The purpose of this study is to describe our model, provide pre- and post-COVID faculty wellness/burnout survey results in response to a hybrid teleradiology model, and provide RTAT data.

      METHODS

      Our institution is a 610 bed Level 1 Trauma academic medical center with three affiliated community hospitals and several outpatient imaging centers. The academic practice division radiologists cover the main level 1 trauma center and three outpatient imaging sites while a community practice division radiologists cover the other imaging sites. There are 50 academic practice radiologists, 31 residents, and six fellows. By division, there are 11 body radiologists, two thoracic radiologists, nine neuroradiologists, seven musculoskeletal radiologists, five breast imaging radiologists, five pediatric radiologists, five nuclear medicine radiologists, five interventional radiologists, and one emergency radiologist. There are typically 2-5 academic faculty assigned per division each day with fellows in neuroradiology, body imaging, musculoskeletal imaging, interventional radiology, and breast imaging. Anywhere between 1 and 5 residents may be present on a subspecialty rotation with 0-5 medical students or visiting residents in the reading room. All divisions except thoracic radiology require a daily procedural attending to cover work such as myelograms, arthrograms, liver biopsies, and barium studies.
      In June 2020 the department decided to continue using a hybrid hospital/teleradiology workday practice. This practice includes an hospital based procedural attending coverage and at least one diagnostic teaching attending for educational coverage. The teaching attending duties were to provide viewbox and didactic education to the residents and medical students. Depending on the division, one to two attendings were assigned as workday teleradiologists from home with the purpose of “keeping the list clean.” Since geographic reading rooms were no longer an operational barrier for the teleradiologists, larger divisions, such as Abdominal had the ability to cross-cover subspecialities remotely that had previously been segregated, such as ultrasound, plain films, and CT/MR.
      Communication with the remote faculty could occur by having their phone number listed on the in PACS chat communicator, instant messaging within the PACS system, or by our HIPAA compliant hospital text system.

      Survey Creation and Data Collection

      Our department has assessed faculty burnout and wellness since 2016. Prior to the pandemic in September 2017, an 18 question survey was sent to faculty to assess wellness/burnout. Then in March 2021, approximately 12 months after the pandemic began, and after the implementation of the hybrid radiology solution, an 18 question survey was re-administered to both faculty and residents. Respondents were given two weeks to complete the survey anonymously. Results of departmental surveys were shared at faculty meetings and the anonymous results were also disseminated via email to all departmental faculty members.
      The initial fifteen questions of the homegrown 2017 and 2021 departmental faculty survey were identical and modeled after the Maslach Burnout Inventory for Human Services Workers, which examines emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment of employees. Both surveys also included a 16th question specifically querying academic rank (i.e., Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, Ph.D., or other). Questions seventeen and eighteen were different in the 2017 vs 2021 survey to address specific wellness domains that were specific to those time periods, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic and effect on workplace. The final question in the 2021 survey was open ended narrative style questions. 2021 Survey Questions are shown in Table 1.
      Table 1Wellness Survey Questions
      2021 Survey Questions
      QuestionResponse Options
      Q1. Do you feel run down or drained of physical or emotional energy?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q2. Do you find that you are prone to negative thinking about your job?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q3. Do you find that you are harder and less sympathetic with people than perhaps they deserve?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q4. Do you find yourself getting easily irritated by small problems, or by your co-workers and team?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q5. Do you feel misunderstood or underappreciated by your co-workers?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q6. Do you feel that you have no-one to talk to?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q7. Do you feel that you are achieving less than you should?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q8. Do you feel under an unpleasant level of pressure to succeed?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q9. Do you feel that you are not getting what you want out of your job?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q10. Do you feel that you are in the wrong organization or the wrong profession?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q11. Are you becoming frustrated with parts of your job?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q12. Do you feel that organizational politics or bureaucracy frustrate your ability to do a good job?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q13. Do you feel that there is more work to do than you practically have the ability to do?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q14. Do you feel that you do not have time to do many of the things that are important to doing a good quality job?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q15. Do you find that you do not have time to plan as much as you would like to?Not at all – Rarely – Sometimes – Often – Very often
      Q16. Select your academic rankR1, R2, R3, R4, R5 R6, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Full Professor, PhD, Advanced Practice Provider (Physician Assistant, Nurse Practitioner, Radiology Assistant)
      Q17. Please share your experience and preference with performing your clinical duties remotely (off campus).Select all that apply
      Q18. If working remotely (in state or out of state) for an extended period of time was offered to faculty, with equitable call, clinical responsibility, and educational responsibility managed by each division, would you be in favor of this opportunity?Share your thoughts in the comment box with a yes/no and explanation.

      RTAT

      IP addresses were used in conjunction with work shifts to track RTAT based on in hospital vs. remote workstations. These were filtered by modality, day of the week, time of the day, and subspecialty. RTAT was compared for in house vs. remote readers in the hybrid model. Volumes of interpretation for in house vs. remote readers was also tracked.

      RESULTS

      2021 Survey questions 1-6 and results are shown in Tables 2 and 3.
      Table 22021 Survey Questions
      2021 Survey Questions 1-6 and Results are Shown Below
      QuestionNot at allRarelySometimesOftenVery Often
      Q1. Do you feel run down or drained of physical or emotional energy?

      N = 50
      14% (7)26% (13)42% (21)12% (6)6% (3)
      Q2. Do you find that you are prone to negative thinking about your job?

      N =50
      14% (7)40% (20)26% (13)14% (7)6% (3)
      Q3. Do you find that you are harder and less sympathetic with people than perhaps they deserve?

      N = 50
      30% (15)34% (17)32% (16)0% (0)4% (2)
      Q4. Do you find yourself getting easily irritated by small problems, or by your co-workers and team?

      N = 50
      8% (9)40% (20)34% (17)6% (3)2% (1)
      Q5. Do you feel misunderstood or underappreciated by your co-workers?

      N = 50
      30% (15)32% (16)22% (11)10% (5)6% (3)
      Q6. Do you feel that you have no-one to talk to?

      N = 50
      52% (26)26% (13)16% (8)4% (2)2% (1)
      Q7. Do you feel that you are achieving less than you should?

      N = 49
      36.7% (18)12.3% (6)34.7% (17)12.2% (6)4.1% (2)
      Q8. Do you feel under an unpleasant level of pressure to succeed?

      N = 50
      34% (17)18% (9)34% (17)10% (5)4% (2)
      Q9. Do you feel that you are not getting what you want out of your job?

      N = 50
      26% (13)26% (13)40% (20)6% (3)2% (1)
      Q10. Do you feel that you are in the wrong organization or the wrong profession?

      N = 49
      51% (25)14.3% (7)30.6% (15)2% (1)2% (1)
      Q11. Are you becoming frustrated with parts of your job?

      N = 50
      16% (8)24% (12)42% (21)12% (6)6% 3)
      Q12. Do you feel that organizational politics or bureaucracy frustrate your ability to do a good job?

      N = 49
      10.2% (5)30.6% (15)30.6% (15)8.2% (4)20.4% (10)
      Q13. Do you feel that there is more work to do than you practically have the ability to do?

      N = 50
      22% (11)26% (13)34% (17)14% (7)4% (2)
      Q14. Do you feel that you do not have time to do many of the things that are important to doing a good quality job?

      N = 50
      24% (12)36% (18)30% (15)8% (4)2% (1)
      Q15. Do you find that you do not have time to plan as much as you would like to?

      N = 50
      20% (10)24% (12)32% (16)20% (10)4% (2)
      Table 3Hybrid Solution Question Responses
      In 2021, There were 50 Total Respondents
      Q16. Please Select Your Academic RankNumber of Respondents in 2021 SurveyResponse Rate within Each Cohort
      Advanced Practice Providers2100% response rate
      Assistant Professors15 (15/27)55% response rate
      Associate Professors5 (5/10)50% response rate
      Full Professors9 (9/19)47% response rate
      Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology Residents19 (19/32)
      • R1 (5)
      • R2 (5)
      • R3 (1)
      • R4 (3)
      • R5 (3)
      • R6 (2)
      59% response rate
      Q 17. Please share your experience and preference with performing your clinical duties remotely (off campus). N = 43Respondents selected “all that apply”
      Increased clinical or academic productivity51% (22)
      Decreased clinical or academic productivity12% (5)
      Plan to continue performing my job off campus when duties allow56% (24)
      Increased my well-being and job satisfaction51% (22)
      Enjoyed the autonomy and flexibility74% (32)
      Positively influences my desire to remain in my current institution51% (22)
      Feel disconnected from workplace community and events28% (12)
      Negatively affected education and collaboration21% (9)
      Positively affected education and collaboration19% (8)
      Open ended comments surrounding working remotely included
      • Increases both clinical and academic productivity
      • If we resume old system post pandemic, job satisfaction would decrease significantly.
      • It has increased productivity, satisfaction, and ability to teach without interruptions within the reading room
      • 100% I am more focused and productive at home. There are few distractions and I can focus on tasks uninterrupted.
      • I have an extra 90 minutes of productive time/day between 6 am and 6 pm because I have no commute.
      • Yes, having autonomy to work remotely 20% is a good balance of personal flexibility and engagement with others. I would have concerns that working remotely more than 30-40% could lead to a loss of engagement and harm academic careers that are so dependent on networking in the professional community.
      • Yes, the flexibility that allows would be invaluable to me. Time savings that I can use to spend time taking care of my kids or allow me to fit exercising into my day has been so important to my well-being.
      For a 6-month period after implementation of hybrid system, RTAT for onsite vs. remote is listed in Table 4. The following were statistically significant (*) in improved RTAT: CT–Ed and inpatient, MR-Inpatient, US-Inpatient, and XR-Inpatient (p < 0.05).
      Table 4Average Report Turnaround Time for Studies Complete to Final Signature in Hybrid System
      ModalityOnsiteRemote
      CT – ED3528*
      CT – Inpatient13889*
      MR – ED5239*
      MR – Inpatient31280*
      US – ED2418
      US – Inpatient8465*
      XR – ED1412
      XR – Inpatient7857*
      *p < 0.05.

      DISCUSSION

      Historically, the radiology reading room was the “beating heart” of the hospital (
      • Wachter R
      Radiology rounds in the digital doctor.
      ). It represented the physical space to discuss imaging finding with the referring physicians, educate residents and medical students. Even with the adoption of PACS, the frequency of in person visits is lower but there are still numerous phone calls (
      • Hardy SM
      • McGillen KL
      • Hausman BL
      Mom's added burden.
      ) which are still an opportunity to connect with our clinical colleagues. Continued benefits of in person reading rooms include collaboration among radiologists, communication with technologists and nurses, and education (
      • Yacoub JH
      • Swanson CE
      • Jay AK
      • Cooper C
      • Spies J
      • Krishnan P
      The Radiology Virtual Reading Room: During and Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic.
      ). However, the ability to educate residents can be impeded by the constant interruptions and large volumes of work. Furthermore, a physical workspace does enable physicians who wish to be physically present, but “checked out” mentally.
      Our own internal burnout data reveals a potentially crippling level of burnout. Within our Likert scales our radiologists identify with “often” or “very often” burnout metrics from 4 to 29% of the time. Given scarcity of radiologists and increasing workloads nationally, replacing burned out radiologists is almost impossible, thus improving job satisfaction is a strategic imperative for departments.
      In our survey over half of all respondents felt that the COVID-19 work from home flexibility increased their well-being and job satisfaction; providing autonomy and familial flexibility and positively influencing their desire to remain at their current institution. Flexibility to provide child-care to sick children, balancing school holidays, or virtual schooling during the pandemic, are workplace options that did not exist before COVID-19 changes. Some have suggested that remote reading may also allow practices to flex radiologist hours improving operational flexibility (
      • Wachter R
      Radiology rounds in the digital doctor.
      ). At least one division in our department exercised this option, allowing familial caregivers (exclusively female) to better manage work-life balance. We hope this flexibility provides a retention and perhaps recruitment advantage for our department by flattening disparate work expectations and structural discrimination (policies that are race or gender neutral in intent but have negative effects on women, minorities, or both) for colleagues (
      • Hardy SM
      • McGillen KL
      • Hausman BL
      Mom's added burden.
      ).
      Teleradiology provides the benefit of being removed from the workroom interruptions. The data from RTAT support that even with potential distractions from children or not being monitored by peers, aggregate work output does not suffer but in fact significantly improved across several modalities. These trends are consistent with national experience, which also note that working from home in a teleradiology setting adds to employee's overall sleep hygiene and sleep time as well as personal flexibility during the day (
      • Stropoli R
      Are we really more productive working from home?.
      ).
      While operational leaders still must monitor productivity to ensure the remote readers are performing their clinical tasks, we feel the benefits of autonomy among the workforce outweigh any risk of opportunistic behavior. Division chiefs must also ensure that there is equity amongst faculty for the rotation and flexibility if there are emergencies that require revision to clinical assignments. In the future, another option is to provide blocks of weeks of remote reading for those wishing to reside in a different seasonal locations.
      In order to implement such a hybrid model, an academic organization must have adequate staffing to provide the in-house education and procedural coverage. Each attending having a home workstation prior to the pandemic was an operational advantage we enjoyed as the epidemic began, but may not be present everywhere. In cases of staffing shortages, the hybrid model allows a flexible schedule for faculty, potentially as a recruitment/retention tool.
      Potential disadvantages of teleradiology include minimized patient contact, diminished interpersonal communication, cost of a home workstation, and reliance on IT and telecommunications. However, rotating staff daily helps maintain the interpersonal communications and patient contact while still providing an extra day or two of autonomy per week. By having radiologists at home decompressing the worklists, and designated teaching faculty who would balance clinical workload and education of our trainees, we believe that the educational experience could be improved within our reading rooms.
      One potential challenge with the hybrid model is the ability to adapt on days of multiple procedure add-on cases. In the full staff model, there were enough faculty on site to accommodate extra procedural volume while still having staff dedicated to resident education. With only two faculty on site, if there were simultaneous procedures, the residents were left alone in the reading room with no assistance during phone calls and less time for education.
      A notable economic benefit for health systems is the decreased cost of teleradiology to the hospital. The variable cost of a radiologist reading remotely is $0 at their home compared to the cost of utilities and high cost of real estate. Since hospital real estate is a precious resource and training programs are expanding, additional space for residents is required. In our experience hospital PACS workstations have increasingly become an operational bottleneck. By utilizing workstations in attendings’ homes we have mitigated this bottleneck and provided a financial benefit for the hospital.
      There is increasing discussion regarding the environmental impact of our departments (
      • Schoen J
      • McGinty G
      • Quirk C
      Radiology in our changing climate: a call to action.
      ), and the past meeting of the Association of University Radiologists is dedicated to this topic. Furthermore, a recent Call to Action in the New England Journal of Medicine highlights health care's carbon emissions. These authors claim that reducing the health care sector's environmental effects and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would not only improve health for everyone but reduce costs of care and potentially reduce existing health care inequities (
      • Dzau VJ
      • Levine R
      • Barrett G
      • et al.
      Decarbonizing the US Health Sector—a call to action.
      ). While a comparative analysis of energy used in a radiology department is beyond this manuscript, it is highly likely that the most variable source of carbon emissions is the commutes of personnel to and from the hospital. Furthermore, environmental concerns tend to resonate more strongly with younger generations from which radiology departments wish to recruit (

      Ballew M, Marlon J, Rosenthal S, et al. Do younger generations care more about global warming? Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. 2019. Available at: https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/do-younger-generations-care-more-about-global-warming. Accessed December 14, 2021

      ). Thus, leadership interested in minimizing carbon emissions within health care and improving the organization's attractiveness among younger generations may wish to utilize and market their hybrid model. Utilization of a hybrid model in a radiology department could therefore reduce the carbon footprint as fewer staff would drive into work, thereby reducing the number of parking spaces needed as well as fewer offices and work spaces.
      Ultimately, the hybrid model implemented during the early days of COVID-19 has the pleasant consequence of mitigating burnout and sustaining clinical operations, while improving productivity. Other benefits may include improved hospital net revenue and recruitment/retention advantages for female and/or younger colleagues.

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