Three Challenges in Medical Imaging Management
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AHRA 2019 speakers share insights on leadership, employees, and stress.
What are the top challenges in medical imaging management? According to knowledgeable presenters at AHRA 2019, they are:
- leadership – and often lack of it;
- managing medical imaging staff;
- dealing with stress
Challenge 1: Leadership – or lack thereof
Like many workplaces, adequate leadership is incredibly valuable and often rare in the medical imaging industry. Many speakers at AHRA attested to the negative impact of unprepared managers in leadership roles. They stressed the need to develop or find “unicorns” that already possess the skills they need to succeed as leaders.
Director of Imaging Services and Dean of the School of Radiology, Wendy J. Stirnkorb, noted in her session, “The Leadership Void: On the Hunt for Unicorns”, that a significant amount of managers are ill-prepared for the leadership aspects of their jobs. Stirnkorb cited a study in which half of the two million employees who made it to leadership roles left the position within one year. Of the two-million who were promoted, only 13% received any formal leadership training.
According to Stirnkorb, facilities are promoting employees based on years of experience and technical skills. Instead, they should look for instinctive leadership qualities like trustworthiness, respect, honor, authenticity, and coachability. She argued that medical imaging facilities need to keep an eye out for “unicorns” who are already on their teams and possess these essential qualities, then guide them into leadership roles. (Read more in her blog, On the Hunt for Unicorns.)
Low-quality leadership can impact patients
Not only does low-quality leadership impact workers, it can also, unfortunately, impact patients. In her session titled “The Stress of Safety: How Workplace Experiences Affect Patient Safety,”Cheryl Turner, EdD, R.T., (R)(T) – Founder/Professor at Rad-Cast, listed several studies regarding observed radiation oncology errors that resulted from human error. Factors such as understaffing, burnout, poor training, and other human-related challenges are common issues for imaging facilities and their patients.
Turner argued that the solutions start at the top with leadership. Rather than putting a “band aid” on the problem with fluff solutions like gym memberships and safe/quiet spaces, Turner suggested that stronger leaders empower their employees and put quality procedures in place to reduce the likeliness of human errors.
Challenge 2: Managing medical imaging staff
The staff of any medical imaging facility is crucial for the workflow and, ultimately, the well-being of their many patients. Unfortunately, staff also can present issues and even cost your facility a lot of money.
Ron Jones, MSRS, RT (R,CT) – Regional Director of Imaging at St. Luke’s Magic Valley, gave a presentation on “Forensic Accounting in Radiology Administration – Are You Being Looted from Within?” He said there will always be some employees who try to take advantage of their employers. Whether it’s through “pay abuse” (ex: illegitimate call-ins to run up bonus payouts) or “card abuse” (ex: employees who have someone else punch in/out for them), these potential cases can cost your facility a lot of money within a year.
Jones noted that it can be difficult to spot problematic employees. He recommended that medical imaging managers stay vigilant by knowing their time management systems, reviewing their employee’s pay patterns, and creating a running spreadsheet.
Managing social conflicts among staff members
Staff also can present social conflicts that need to be managed. Josh Block, President of Block Imaging, noted in his session, “The Art of Leadership ‘From Now On’”, that strong leaders must not make impulsive decisions when dealing with staff.
He shared a personal example about a staff member who presented an issue to him. His employee noted that a detector was accidently shipped to the wrong location, and said it was the fault of other employees. Rather than take corrective action and reprimand the staff identified by the whistleblower, Block investigated and spoke with the team. His investigation found that not only was the matter resolved, but the story was not at all how his employee had described it. Had he acted impulsively and reprimanded his staff incorrectly without all of the information, Block would have damaged his relationship with his team unnecessarily.
Block also encouraged managers not to be afraid to let people go. Can it be uncomfortable? Absolutely. However, cutting staff members who hold a team back or fail to carry their weight can be met with internal celebration by the rest of the staff. Not only will you eventually see better production from the team, you will also likely see improved comradery.
Challenge 3: Dealing with stress in medical imaging
Possibly the most common element of the sessions at AHRA 2019 was the impact of stress on medical imaging facility admins. In addition to the impact that stress can have on patient safety, stress can boil over in a variety of ways and come from many different sources.
As previously noted, Turner shared examples of human-related errors that compromised patient safety. Of those errors, stress on the imaging staff was an extremely common theme. These stresses include heavier workloads, inadequate training, and improper procedures. Turner suggested that management consider the patient-safety impact of these stressors and present realistic solutions.
Among her suggestions, Turner advised administrators to present opportunities for continued education to increase staff confidence.
She also recommended regularly encouraging and empowering staff members to be part of the procedural process. For example, if a staff member fears that presenting a potential work-related issue may make them look poorly, they will keep the issue to their self. Instead, staff should be encouraged to present issues so that proactive measures can be taken to avoid a potential problem. The measures could be rearranging a work schedule to ensure staff members get enough sleep between shifts, or creating a training course for team members to sharpen their awareness skills. Empowered employees can lead to a less stressful environment.
Stress management for administrators
Unfortunately, admins are often just as stressed (if not more stressed) than their staff members. So how do administrators deal with the stressors associated with your very demanding job? Leadership Consultant of Integrated Leadership Systems, Mario Rodriguez, MS, provided stress-reducing techniques in his session titled, “The Art of Managing Workplace Conflict.”
He emphasized “mindfulness meditation” – the activity of focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present – blocking out the whirlwind of thoughts and distractions of the environment. This tactic can be used to better understand hurdles presented by your subconscious thought process. Rodriguez advised AHRA attendees to start by practicing mindfulness meditation with a variety of activities and then find the activity that best suits them.
Lack of leadership qualities, managing employees, and dealing with stress were common themes that I heard this year at AHRA. What did you learn? Were there any sessions that stuck out to you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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Ryan Vowles is the Marketing Project and Advertising Manager for Carestream Health. Learn about Carestream’s medical imaging solutions.