Filling the Gaps in Radiographer Staffing Shortages
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5 strategies to streamline workflow and retain your current staff.
Medical imaging professionals and other essential healthcare workers in clinical settings work in stressful, demanding, and tragic conditions – even more so throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it is no surprise that a significant number of radiologic technologists and specialty technologists left their current positions for opportunities for higher pay, better benefits and working conditions, or worse…they left the profession altogether.
Technologist staffing shortages have direct and indirect impacts on clinical operations, according to radiology administrators. Reduced staffing creates stress among the whole radiology team, hospital flow, and patient care. Exam backlogs can result in longer patient wait times, and delayed patient exam results can impact operations in other hospital departments as well as patient treatment. While senior executives ponder how to resolve the radiographer crisis, there are some equipment and software features that can help reduce patient exam-to-read times, and lessen stress, strain, and frustration for technologists, as well as improve job satisfaction. In this blog are five strategies to increase productivity in imaging workflow and hopefully help retain your existing staff:
- Leverage time-saving features on your medical imaging equipment
- Give radiographers fewer clicks and greater workflow productivity
- Provide a consistent software interface for improved efficiency
- Adopt AI-driven automated workflows
- Reduce radiographer fatigue through ergonomics
Drivers of the radiologic technologist shortage
There was a shortage of radiographers before the official arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In 2019,radiology departments in the U.S. were already experiencing an 8.5% understaffing of radiologic technologists, according to ASRT Radiologic Sciences and Staffing Survey (1). The percentage of understaffing is unknown since the 2019 ASRT survey, but many hospital administrators can attest to the deficit of full-time employees in their departments and the individual reasons for attrition. This deficit is exacerbated by locum tenens, per diem, contract, or travel tech positions, of which are reported to offer triple the pay as compared to typical technologist pay.
Some radiographers left in pursuit of different healthcare roles, such as nursing, after being overlooked for bonuses and accolades given to others in healthcare. Some left the medical field altogether for careers suited to better working conditions, remote working opportunities, or better pay. Lastly, the stress of working in healthcare during the COVID pandemic drove others to retire earlier than planned. Overall, radiographer attrition extends throughout the spectrum of specialty technologists, such as ultrasound, radiation therapy, MRI and CT, as well as primary radiography technologists.
Strategy 1: Leverage time-saving features on your medical imaging equipment
Are you making the most of the productivity features available on your medical imaging equipment? As productivity and software efficiencies have evolved, so have the features that enhance automation and efficiency in radiology workflows. Ask your vendor for a review of time-saving features, like Modality Performed Procedure Step, Custom Configurations, Automated Workflow, and others. (Read our blog for a list of commonly under-utilized features.)
As a seasoned radiologic technologist, I know it can be hard for staff to keep up with ever-changing improvements in software interfaces, as well as understand and utilize interface advancements designed to save time and steps. Additionally, you might have new staff members who were never fully trained on your equipment. Consider having your vendor provide new or refresh Applications Training to your staff. This is the most effective path for your radiographers to become proficient with equipment, maximize equipment capabilities, and decrease workflow time per patient. If scheduling technologist education is difficult, check with your local Carestream representative for options for a virtual software refresher.
If you are not sure if your radiographers need additional training on the modality or on digital imaging principles, consult your analysis software like Carestream’s Administrative Analysis and Reporting Software. The software provides a “digital dashboard” that allows you to monitor workflow patterns on your Carestream equipment. You can see who is having difficulty with repeats – a redundant workflow time-killer – as well as other information on operator technique giving you information on staff members who could benefit from additional training.
Strategy 2: Give radiographers fewer clicks and greater workflow productivity
In visits to clinics and hospital departments, I interact with technologists often. I hear tech’s feedback of how they want to perform radiologic exams faster, with less software interface transitions. They are eager for easy ways to fix common exam and image capture problems all while assuring patient comfort and quick exam throughput times.
The design of Carestream’s equipment and software revolves around providing ease-of-use for the technologist, including fast and easy ways to correct common workflow mistakes at the device without additional intervention from key operators or support departments, such as the PACS/RIS team. Carestream’s advanced ImageView Software design decreases the number of clicks and transitions and streamlines the user experience even more. Technologists appreciate features like the “quick repeat” button, the ability to evaluate image quality with enhanced zoom features, a tech assist dashboard for image quality exposure indicators, an onboard radiologic positioning app, and a quick “un-reject” button in case a crucial image needs to be re-used at a later point.
If a software app is programmed for a facility’s RIS, HIS and/or PACS, the radiographer does not need to leave the workstation to complete the exam. Imagine the physical steps and time saved by not returning to a hub to complete exams on another computer! Our smooth workflow processes were developed from radiographer feedback, and aid in quick patient imaging turnaround times.
Strategy 3: Provide a consistent software user interface for improved efficiency
During peak-demand times and mixed staffing environments, having consistency with DR room, retrofit, and mobile equipment software user interfaces helps techs move from system to system without interruptions or retraining. This is even more valuable now given that staffing shortages likely require more technologist coverage among sister facilities to fill in during peak-demand times.
Our ImageView Software platform is available across our entire DR product line and uses one common user interface for improved efficiency and productivity. Having a uniform interface also reduces training time and costs. This feature is a bonus for onboarding new and temporary technologists.
In my years as an Application’s Consultant and Product Specialist, I’ve met technologists who are excited to use Carestream products because they are familiar with its historic tech-friendly design and ease-of-use – whether they already have Carestream products, or from their experience with Carestream in previous positions or radiography school. Radiographers tell us that the user-friendly interface is a comfort to a newly-hired technologist.
Strategy 4: Adopt AI-driven automated workflows
Artificial Intelligence algorithms deliver important time-saving benefits and workflows in today’s radiology suite. Recently, Carestream introduced new AI-based Smart features that take imaging exam workflow efficiencies to the next level. Our “Smart Room” has features to help optimize equipment positioning, patient positioning, and faster radiographer workflow. In addition to increasing patient throughput, these features can help improve image consistency, highlight specific pathologies for special evaluation, and reduce retakes, all contributing to a smoother running department and better patient care.
Smart features can benefit radiographers of all skill levels. Also, advances in automation may decrease close contact patient time for radiographers — a huge benefit in the presence of infectious diseases or viruses like COVID. Our AI-driven “Smart” features for automated DR workflow include: Smart Auto Position, Smart Patient Positioning, Smart Collimation, and Smart Technique. Read our blog to learn more about our Smart Features for DR workflow.
Strategy 5: Reduce radiographer fatigue through ergonomics
Moving equipment and positioning patients repeatedly throughout the day is exhausting. Carestream offers three ergonomic solutions to help ease strains, sprains, and drains on your technologist workforce:
Lux 35 Detector: Radiographers are always multi-tasking. They hold a 7-pound detector in one hand while supporting and helping a patient with the other hand. It is difficult to hold a detector securely in one hand, especially as fatigue sets in toward the end of a shift. Lighten techs load – literally – with our new lightweight, glass-free Lux 35 Detector. It weighs almost 2 pounds less than our DRX-Plus Detector of the same size. Its sleek ergonomic design includes finger grips on three sides to give radiographers a secure grip and allow for easier positioning, especially for bedside exams.
SmartGrid Software: Give your radiographers relief from handling heavy and bulky anti-scatter grids. Our SmartGrid processing software provides image quality comparable to images acquired with an anti-scatter grid. Improve productivity by getting the benefits of grid-like image quality without the use of an anti-scatter physical grid.
DRX-L Detector: Capturing high-quality, long-length images of the legs or spine can be difficult – especially with pediatric patients or patients with limited mobility who find it hard to remain still for an extended period. The DRX-L Detector allows capture of long-length images with a single exposure, while saving exam time, speeding workflow, and decreasing retakes. With a high DQE, it also helps reduce patient dose as compared to multi-exposure stitched imaging or older capture methods and potential repeats.
Some of these suggested time-saving features might seem insignificant. However, small time savings can add up. In addition, the strategies suggested can help with staff retention by reducing fatigue and improving job satisfaction. Most rad techs chose their profession because they want to care for people. Freeing them up from looking at a workstation gives them a few added minutes to spend with patients. Lastly, having adequate training and a consistent user interface can give them more confidence. Together, these strategies might help you get through the current shortage of radiologic technologists and keep the ones you have.
Kendra Hall Ph.D. RT(R), has been in the medical imaging profession for more than 22 years as an active radiologic technologist in various capacities. She joined Carestream in 2007 as an Application’s Consultant, and currently is an X-ray Solutions Product Specialist.
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists (2019). Radiologic technologist staffing and workplace survey. Retrieved July 25, 2021 from https://www.asrt.org/search?q=technologist%20staffing