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Teleradiologists do better work if they focus on just a few hospital customers. But they also do better work if they read for a variety of customers.

Those seemingly contradictory findings emerged from a study of more than 2.7 million images read by 97 teleradiologists for 1,431 customers. An article about the study was published online last month in the journal Organization Science.

“How can it be that both specialization and variety are important?” said Jonathan Clark, PhD, assistant professor of health policy and administration at Penn State University and lead author of the study. “Our models can only take us so far toward answering this question, but we think the implication is that there are limits to both customer specialization and customer variety, and that the optimum is to have a nice mix of both specialized experience and variety in customers.”

Dr. Clark was quoted in a Penn State news release. He said the research could help teleradiology companies structure how they assign images for reading:

In the setting we studied, teleradiologists are often reading emergency cases, where speed and productivity can be critical, so it is important for outsourcing radiology firms to understand how they might design their operations to improve performance and ensure a rapid response for each customer.

The study also found that customer specificity of learning for individual radiologists diminished as the company at large gained more experience with a particular customer. “The implication is that customer-specific capabilities may also be built at the level of the outsourcing organization as a whole and not just at the level of the individual radiologist,” Dr. Clark said.

Overall, he said, “the implication is not that we shouldn’t outsource. Rather, our findings provide guidance to outsourcers in terms of how they might think about designing the work of their radiologists to maximize productivity. For new customers, an outsourcing firm may wish to keep individual providers relatively more focused on serving a specific customer. As organizational experience accrues with a specific customer, however, such dedication becomes less critical.”

These questions are of more than academic interest. As Dr. Clark points out:

More than half of all hospitals now use teleradiology services.

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Pleading guilty to a felony costs a Northern Kentucky radiologist his job. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related seminar: National Diagnostic Imaging Symposium™


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