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Radiology – the ‘gatekeeper’ specialty to unlocking the potential of digital health

Can radiology become the most important medical specialty in the field of digital health?

This was one of the questions posed as part of Fujifilm’s Healthcare’s Digital European Tour, a series of virtual events designed to highlight the contribution radiology has been making during – and after – the pandemic.

The event saw clinicians from across Europe share their experience of Covid-19, and the vital role radiologist have and can play in the fight. 

And according to Professor Thomas Vogl, Director of the Institute for Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at Frankfurt University Hospital, radiology services will be vital to the future of healthcare. Citing the example of a network of hospitals across Germany sharing lung CT scans to help diagnose Covid, Prof Vogl believes the opportunities are enormous. He described how the potential of artificial intelligence when combined with innovations in radiology, could transform the way we approach diagnostics across a number of illness areas.

The central role of radiology in the evolving use of diagnostics was a recurring theme of the whole event, which heard reports from speakers based across Europe. 

And while advances in technology can never replace physicians – a point made by Ing. Giovanni Delgrossi, Director of Information Systems ASST Vimercate in Italy – it can transform the speed and effectiveness of our physicians; and radiographers could be the ‘gatekeepers’ to unlocking this potential. 

It is a development that Ing. Delgrossi believes could help move healthcare from being reactive, (even passive) to being proactive – to finding and treating more health problems, more quickly. This belief is fed by his experiences during the pandemic. 

In Vemercate, they were able to use artificial intelligence to scan an average of 80-90 chest x-rays per day and separate the Covid positive from the Covid negative; helping them to identify over 900 Covid patients. However, the importance of radiology doesn’t simply fit within the confinement of the height of the pandemic. 
(Read the full case of Vimercate Hospital downloading Take Away 17 here: synapse.fujifilm.eu/fujifilm-takeaway/ )

The problems of care and diagnosis backlogs threatens health systems across Europe. In Italy for example, 521,000 (12%) fewer new diagnoses were made, and the number of patients starting a new treatment fell by 277,000 (10%). This is a picture that speakers from across Europe shared; In Germany, half of surgeries have been postponed; In France, new diagnoses of cancer were down 23%, and 2.2m operations were canceled; and in the UK, 1.7m people were waiting more than 18 weeks to start a new treatment. This combines to create a Europe-wide tidal wave of patients waiting to be diagnosed and treated. 

The role of innovative radiological solutions in helping to work through these backlogs was highlighted as being potentially crucial. Fiona Thow, formerly of NHS Improvement in England talked about how Fujifilm’s Xair, a portable x-ray unit, was transforming the way in which care could be delivered. She described how, by taking care out to community diagnostic hubs nearer the patients, they could identify and triage patients more quickly, and help keep patients away from acute centres, allowing them to focus on the patients that require acute care. 

And in France, radiologists are collaborating across Europe to share data on breast imaging to help identify how big a backlog they are likely to face so that they can continue to identify as many cases of breast cancer as early as possible, giving patients the best possible outcomes. 

While there is much to be concerned about – the impact of Covid is profound and will be long term – there is enormous pride that radiologists can, and are, playing such a key role in helping to deal with the pandemic’s effects. For us at Fujifilm, there is a tremendous affirmation in that; what we do really matters. That by never stopping innovating, and producing new technologies, we have helped our health services across Europe cope with the pandemic. And that by continuing to produce the technologies that we do, we are helping to equip not just our radiologists, but the entire multi-disciplinary care team – with the tools they need to minimise the impact of the pandemic on patients and maximise the effectiveness of their care.

If we can collectively achieve that, then perhaps we will be able to say that radiology really is the gatekeeper specialty to unlocking the potential of digital health.

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