Night Time Coverage Becoming Harder

Managing night shift coverage remains a major challenge in the health industry. Across all specialties, night coverage rates are far lower than day staffing, but demand only continues to grow for both shifts. As explained by Beth W. Orenstein of Radiology Today, effective workflow management reduces the strain on health organizations during night hours. The same principle applies to radiologist work schedules. Instead of trying to force radiologists to work overnight shifts, health administrators should follow these tips to expand available resources and improve night radiology coverage.

1. Listen to Radiologists’ Work Schedule Needs, Not Just Their Preferences.

The first tip is simple. Acknowledge radiologists are more than a laborer. They have personal lives and other duties beyond the workplace. Take the initiative to listen to their requests, accommodating them when possible. As noted by Radiology Business, radiologists that want to work nights will fulfill the needs more efficiently and effectively than those that are required to work nights.

2. Take Advantage of Teleradiology Services.

Teleradiology services have grown well beyond the original intent. While such services were designed to serve an interim basis until an on-site radiologist provided a final reading, teleradiology has evolved. Teleradiology services can exclusively review images and provide final readings. This is an excellent resource for areas with limited access to radiologists, such as hospitals in rural areas. However, the same benefits are available for health organizations in locations of high demand, including both cities and suburban communities. Teleradiology does not replace your in-house staff. Instead, it provides a way to expand staffing beyond the walls of the facility.

3. Find Radiologists With a Predisposition to Evening and Night Work.

The traits of a person determine their effectiveness, as well as their desire to work overnight. Individuals with a history of sleep flexibility or spending excess time up in the evening are more likely to adjust to overnight work. Such traits may be particularly prevalent among recent graduates and younger generations.

4. Be Realistic in Building the Radiologist Schedule.

The staffing schedule might be the biggest way an organization can improve its overnight coverage. Instead of trying to stretch shifts beyond typical limits, strive to keep all shifts under 12 hours. Also, start overnight shifts before midnight. At the same time, build shifts to end before sunrise. Finally, give radiologists that switch between day and overnight shifts at least 48 hours between switching. This makes adjusting to the switch easier on the body and mind.

5. Consider Deploying Advanced Technologies to Optimize Imaging Readings.

Advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and deep learning, have permeated the radiology landscape. The ideas are ground-breaking, giving radiologists a way to automate the image review and interpretation process, says Keith Loria of Radiology Today. Such technologies have the potential to replace radiologists, but that is not the realistic outcome.

Realize that while advanced systems facilitate faster review and interpretation, all readings should be still subject to an in-person review. In other words, artificial intelligence algorithms may learn from past images and overruled interpretations. However, the presence of a “second set of eyes,” the radiologist, ensures new systems provide accurate results.

The application of new technologies is not limited to first-read images either. Since overnight radiologists take longer to review images and make diagnoses, artificial intelligence tools could be used to validate results. Validation reduces the mental stress associated with reading results while drowsy—a common problem among overnight workers.

6. Give Radiologists an Incentive to Work Overnight.

The final tip involves the use of an incentive to get more radiologists to work overnight. To avoid the risk of working too much or disrupting radiologist sleep schedules, do not allow radiologists to work more than a reasonable amount. When creating incentives, focus on the reward, such as vacation time, double overtime rates or another benefit. The key to making this tip successful lies in avoiding its misuse.

What Else Can Administrators Do to Keep Pace With Radiology Demands?

Fulfilling radiology demands will remain a challenge. The health industry appears to continue in its consolidation of services, and radiologists, especially private practices, are at risk for joining private equity firms to avoid the risks and trouble of overnight work. Instead of joining private equity firms, give your organization’s radiologists a hand by expanding resources through these tips. Of course, this is not a comprehensive list, and your imagination sets the limits of what can work in your facility to increase night coverage.