The Mental State of Radiologists is Alarming, Calling for Radiology Reform

15 October 2020 - Collaborative Imaging
The Mental State of Radiologists is Alarming, Calling for Radiology Reform
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Burnout and mental issues among Radiologists. Radiology was most recently named the most mentally demanding physician specialty based on on-the-job demands and exhaustion. The light of this news means a call to the industry to help reduce the workload on radiologists. Let’s take a deeper look at why radiologists how we can reduce burnout.

The American Medical Association’s researchers and several others measured mental, physical, and temporal workplace demands in medicine using the NASA Task Load Index.

Radiologists reported the highest physician task load, or PTL, scores of any specialty. This is a given considering the volume of patients that radiologists see a day compared to other specialties. For example, anesthesiologists see up to 10 patients per day, while radiologists average at 150.

The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety found that PTL and burnout were highly related. Elizabeth Harry, MD, senior director of clinical affairs at the University of Colorado Hospital, and co-authors concluded, Even a modest decrease in PTL was associated with a decrease in burnout, suggesting standard process improvement has the potential to positively impact PTL when looked at using this lens.”

5,276 physicians were surveyed between October 2017 and March 2018 for the study, including 221 radiologists. For the category of “Overall Task Load”, emergency medicine logged the highest, with radiology, urology, and subspecialities in general surgery alongside. Radiology logged the highest score for “mental demand” at 78.9 out of 100 in four separate categories. Imaging also landed in the top for time demands (71.7) and the “effort required” to do the job was at 78.4.

Although the physical demand was low, the workplace fatigue, from the Maslach Burnout Inventory, was reported very high. 39% reported emotional exhaustion, while 27% experienced depersonalization and 44% had at least one sign of burnout. Here, researchers found that every 40-point decrease in PTL meant 33% lower odds in experiencing burnout.

This worrisome news calls for a lot of help in the radiology industry. After years of schooling to become a radiologist, they are pushed and shoved through day-to-day volumes and lose emotional and mental wellbeing. What is recommended to help practice improve? The journal says that help from payers and EHR providers are essential. But every practice needs to evaluate redundancy and inefficiencies in their workflow. Governing and regulatory bodies need to consider the “downstream task load of mandates and reporting requirements, all of which contribute to extraneous cognitive load,” the team advised. Third party companies are becoming available to help with this task, in an ever-changing radiology space.

Redesigning systems is the biggest aspect of mitigating the radiologist workload. So having a highly efficient technical team to create a process to help radiologists can be extremely beneficial. Since radiologists don’t have the time to take on this task themselves, hiring another party to assist is best.

It pays to invest in technology, in monetary, emotional, and mental wellbeing.