How Automation Impacts the Future of Radiology?

Shannon Werb, CIO & COO, vRad (Virtual Radiologic)

Shannon Werb, CIO & COO, vRad (Virtual Radiologic)Shannon Werb, CIO & COO, vRad (Virtual Radiologic)

Despite the fact technology has touched every enterprise we come across of our life and has tried to change the traditional ways of doing businesses. But still, there are issues unique to imaging that keep me up at night as the CIO of the world’s largest radiology practice, I do have a few “broader” areas of concern:

Finding the Right Talent

Getting the right people on the team to accomplish our aggressive development goals has been-and continues to be a challenge. I’m not alone. According to a recent study in Network World, 78 percent of respondents anticipate hiring more technology resources in the first six months of 2016 compared to the second half of 2015. More importantly, nearly half complain that the time to fill positions continues to lengthen.

"A technology solution in search of a raison d’être is a recipe for disaster"

The challenge for all CIOs is not only the sheer number of IT resources required to hire, but also ensuring the right cultural fit for the organization. Hiring is a long and expensive process-so ensuring the new recruit stays, thrives and progresses in the organization is the key. While in most departments, managers can hire for cultural fit and train for job responsibilities, IT must find both within the same candidate. We need fit and competence in very specific areas. That’s a challenge.

Our ability to tap current IT team members for new candidates has helped to address this challenge. Likewise investing in our culture by making vRad an attractive opportunity for IT individuals considering a change has also proven to be successful. While culture can go from positive to negative very quickly, creating a positive culture takes time; but, when done right, culture can create momentum to attract and retain world-class team members.

Keeping the Right Talent

Given the competition for good and competent IT resources, we must continually invest in our team to ensure we are providing the right incentives for long term retention. While money is important, job content is also a critical tool. Ensuring that we are presenting our best team members with new challenges and innovative technologies like Deep Learning improves engagement and job satisfaction. We need to challenge ourselves continually to customize incentives to those individuals we need to invest in for our long term success. We also need to challenge ourselves to focus on the top performing team members. Our philosophy is that 80% of our IT management “employee time” should be spent nurturing the new recruits and the star players; 20% at most should be spent on coaching low performers. While this is a goal, the low performers typically divert much more of our limited time. That’s time away from those who are going to help vs. hinder the organization. Knowing who to invest in is just as important as knowing who to coach out of the organization.


All that said, I probably spend the most time “awake at night” thinking about security and data privacy. Security is an issue that will always be present, yet is becoming more relevant as the size and relevance of data breaches increase. We need to continue investing in the improvement of our industry posture as it relates to security, but also we need to come to grips with the reality that we all operate in today and make sure we are able to respond to events as they happen. We need a focused effort to protect industry from the increasing occurrence and scale of cyber-security incidents. No longer are we seeing simple hackers or basic hack attacks. Today’s incidents are well orchestrated, well financed and often foreign based—and target ill-prepared end users within healthcare organizations. This isn’t just a technology challenge; it will require cultural changes within the organization. As an example medical records now carry an estimated value of 20x that of credit card numbers. The challenge will only get bigger—and technology providers can’t wish it away. It’s no longer a question of “if” a cyber-attack will happen, but rather “when”—and how severe it will be. Technology partners must help lead the charge on how to reduce risk and impact to healthcare providers and patients.

As previously mentioned, automation, integration and “intelligent” workflows are all trends impacting the future of radiology. Companies, like vRad, need to ensure they are developing solutions that can flex over time. While we’d like think we know where the industry is headed, healthcare is fast moving and not immune to change. We must create “generic” building blocks to build highly tailored workflows.

Successful “future-proofing” will depend on a continuous and open dialogue between both clinical and operational leaders in an organization. vRad has been successful because of its CIO/CMO (Chief Medical Officer) partnership. We don’t develop technology solutions for clinical or operational workflows until we have the right questions asked and answered. And we don’t develop solutions without a structured game plan in place with established timelines, assignment of responsibilities and accountability for meeting our goals. A technology solution in search of a raison d’être is a recipe for disaster. A technology solution without a business plan creating a path to achieve and deliver on time and on budget is just silly.

Define before You Design: Have a desired outcome before you get started on your technology planning. Technology alone is not the solution; technology is only the enabler.

Invest in Your People: Don’t start by outsourcing; create core competencies that will differentiate your organization. Your team needs to develop the experience and expertise in order to manage potential third parties in the future. And, developing your internal human capital keeps key team members engaged-or they will move on.

Start Small: Don’t do too many things at once. Force prioritization to ensure you get “stuff done”-and build momentum on successful implementations.

Be Rigid and Flexible: Stick to your priorities, but keep asking questions and challenge your assumptions-always. Don’t be afraid to stop what you’re doing if it’s not working-or make sure to finish what you’ve started before adding too many concurrent projects. Getting it right is a balancing act.

Get Out of the Data Center: An effective CIO should be spending no more than 50 percent of his or her time on technology issues-and at least 50 percent on business challenges. CIOs should have a seat at the management table and be seen as a business partner to the organization vs. a budgeting black hole. A CIO should be an enabler of the company’s vision-and needs to talk the same language as the CEO and the other senior executives.

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