We need to come out of the reading room – both literally and figuratively – to engage more proactively and meaningfully with referring physicians and patients. The fact is that patients will receive better care – and outcomes – with a more engaged radiologist.

Roger Eng, MD – President-Elect of the California Radiological Society

OK – Raise your hand if you LOVE your radiologist. [If you are married to a radiologist, you’re disqualified – put your hand down.] I’m not seeing many hands. What’s that? You don’t know who your radiologist is? If you don’t, you’re not unique. Yet radiologists have become increasingly important in the healthcare delivery system. For those of you who aren’t “medically inclined,” Radiologists are medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound (Definition courtesy of the American College of Radiology).

I’m guessing that a few bells are starting to ring now – we’re all familiar with X-rays, MRIs and CT scans at this point. But what most of us don’t realize is that radiologists are usually behind the scenes – completely invisible to the patient. Most of their work is done in a “reading room” that’s completely separated from the exam rooms frequented by patients. It’s quite common for the radiologist to make an analysis of the test results they’re shown, write a report for the referring physician, and send the report back – and that’s the sum total of the engagement in the process.

Yet now, more than ever, the expertise of the radiologist needs to be an integrated part of the continuum of care. Dr. Cynthia Sherry chairs the Radiology Department at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital in Dallas, and is also the Chief Medical Director for the Radiology Leadership Institute. The RLI, a program of the American College of Radiology, is designed to reshape the future of the practice of Radiology.

The old stereotype of the “disengaged radiologist” in the back room absolutely needs to change. Imaging has become such an important part of health care delivery today that virtually all patients have an imaging test of some kind. When the situation calls for it and the patient has an advanced test early in the process, they have measurably better outcomes … the radiologist needs to be more engaged, earlier in the process.

Cynthia Sherry, MD – Medical Director, the Radiology Leadership Institute

That sentiment correlates well with a survey that was announced this week by GE Healthcare* as a part of their MIND Initiative (Making an Impact on Neurological Disorders). That survey, which focused on diagnoses of Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease, was able to quantify significant advantages (financial and otherwise) to reducing delays in diagnosis.

The RLI has developed a comprehensive curriculum that is designed to equip radiologists for leadership in the evolving model for delivering healthcare in the US. Underlying all of that leadership development is that radiologists are being trained and equipped to have a voice – and that’s where social media begins to come into play.

For a function that’s traditionally perceived as being a part of the “back office,” a surprising number of radiologists have taken to social media as a mechanism to build those broader connections with referring physicians and patients. We’re tracking over 200 online radiologists through our MDigitalLIfe initiative (you can find a list of them, along with other important members of the radiology community, in this twitter list). One of the most active of them is Garry Choy, a staff radiologist at Mass General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He’s also the founder of a proprietary social network for radiologists called radRounds – that now has over 12,000 members from around the world.

But Garry is also a huge proponent of Twitter – and when I asked him why, his response was, “because it saves me so much time.” Yes, you read that right. Since most non-Twitter-users seem to think of it as a huge time-suck, I was a little surprised myself. So I asked him to elaborate.

“As a radiologist, it’s critically important for me to be connected to all of the latest advancements in process and technology as it relates to medicine. The people I follow on Twitter act as a human filter for the best information. It also allows me to access the top experts in the world, in real time, when I have a question.”

Garry Choy, MD – Mass General Hospital’s Division of Emergency Radiology and Teleradiology

I’m lucky enough to be spending the weekend with some incredibly inspiring radiologists this weekend at the annual meeting of the California Radiological Society – where I’ll be making a presentation with Dr. James Chen on Radiology and Social Media on Sunday the 22nd at 12:00 PDT. We’ll be sharing some data on how Radiologists are using social media for the very first time, which is always exciting. And I’ll also be doing 1×1 “Online Activation” coaching with a couple of dozen radiologists who are ready to take that next step into the future. You can follow all the action through the hashtag #CalRad13.

There’s much more to come as radiologists embrace the future of their field – and as online communication looms large in that process, we’ll all be able to follow along. Enjoy the ride!

*GE Healthcare is a client of WCG.