Remote radiology service offers treatment for waiting lists

A virtual radiology service being set up by SEQURE Health could double the capacity of District Health Boards to read X-rays, CT

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A virtual radiology service being set up by SEQURE Health could double the capacity of District Health Boards to read X-rays, CT Scans, MRI Scans and Ultrasounds.

The service will see radiologists reporting on images from dedicated high-end work stations linked directly to District Health Boards’ IT systems by secure virtual private networks (VPN).1

SEQURE is not the only company to offer a radiology reporting service in New Zealand. But it differs significantly from its competitors in giving privately contracted radiologists the ability to work within District Health Boards’ own information systems, marketing manager Debora Almeida says.

The innovative approach ensures the radiologists have crucially important access to patients’ medical histories, including previous X-rays, scans and lab results. And it offers DHBs a seamless service where radiologists report their findings directly into their own patient management systems.

The development has been made possible by the move to digital X-rays almost a decade ago which allowed DHBs to share information remotely through their picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) and radiology information systems (RIS).

Debora says SEQURE’s virtual radiology service will help to clear long waiting lists, particularly in areas such as orthopaedics, where there is overwhelming demand for hip and knee replacements as the population ages.

She believes District Health Boards may choose to use the service for the diagnosis of routine examinations, freeing up staff radiologists to spend more time on complex cases.

“That creates a very beneficial effect on the doctors on site because they start to see the workload going away, so they have less pressure on them. With less pressure, they can spend more time reading one X-ray than they would before and consequently that also generates a better outcome for the patient.”

SEQURE will deliver its virtual radiology service in partnership with its sister company Mercury Medical Recruitment, a specialist medical recruitment agency with more than 25 years experience in New Zealand. Mercury will recruit radiologists to work for the service, ensuring they are appropriately qualified and registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.

SEQURE will equip the radiologists with dedicated work stations in line with standards set by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists.

SEQURE is already supplying technicians to perform Ultrasound and MRI scans within hospitals, and the launch of the virtual radiology service means it can offer an integrated diagnostic service.

“We can go inside the DHB and insource the technicians to do the scanning and after that we can do the reporting with the virtual radiologist, so we can do an all-in-one service,” Debora explains.

SEQURE has just completed two contracts with the Southern District Health Board, hiring ophthalmologists to work weekend hours to clear a backlog of patients overdue for followup appointments with the eye clinic. The public-private partnership saw SEQURE perform 1,000 check-ups over a two-month period.

Debora says SEQURE will offer its virtual radiology service to DHBs on similar terms, contracting to deliver a certain number of X-ray reports within a defined time frame. “SEQURE is a flexible company, so we will give them the chance to have small contracts or big contracts. They don’t have to commit to a high quantity. They can do small chunks.”

Hiring doctors to work remotely is a new departure for SEQURE but will enable the company to offer the service at a far lower cost than if District Health Boards were to hire locum radiologists to work within the hospital environment.

“It is cheaper and it is convenient for the District Health Boards. They don’t have to pay for travel or accommodation and they don’t have to actually hire another radiologist.”

For the radiologists themselves, the service offers flexible working conditions and the benefit of an extra income, Debora says.

“They don’t have to give up their daily jobs or their routine. They can do it on holidays, after hours, whenever they are available. They don’t have to give up their private jobs or their public jobs.”

Waikato Hospital radiologist Dr Sheida Mehrain has experience working remotely, reporting on X-rays taken at Gisborne Hospital from her desk in Hamilton, through the shared Bay of Plenty and Waikato District Health Board PACS/RIS network.

She says remote reporting offers benefits for the District Health Boards, for radiologists and for patients.

“When a department is short of staff, it’s so much easier to remotely help them out.”

On a personal level, she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to work on a more flexible basis in future.

“It would be a huge advantage to me because I could really plan how I want to work and when I can work and there would be zero travelling time, and travelling is something that nobody likes,” she smiles.


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