“No more sleepless nights for us.”
Arjun Kalyanpur, Chief Radiologist and CEO, Teleradiology Solutions (www.telradsol.com) says technology has not just saved his bacon but also in a sense brought it home.
I am a radiologist-entrepreneur. About a decade ago, while working in an emergency room in an US hospital at night, reporting scans on patients coming in with acute emergencies, I had a Eureka moment.
Soon after, it came to fruition. We began using a new technology called teleradiology to report scans for the VA hospital across town. This meant that instead of having a radiologist stay up all night at two hospitals, the same person could cover both hospitals, a concept I (being someone who likes my sleep!) thought was neat.
My idea was inspired by software companies who used a ‘follow the sun’ model, wherein people in different time zones worked staggered shifts so that no one had to stay up at night and 24 hour operations were possible. I thought to myself that this could certainly be done in radiology as well, which, in the new millennium had transformed itself into an entirely digital, high-tech discipline.
When we moved back to India in 1999, I convinced the chair of my department at Yale to do a project where we tested this concept over 100 ER visits. No surprise: it worked well, and we had many presentations at conferences and some publications.
Now, the entrepreneurial engine within me was ignited, and I proceeded to incorporate my company which today is nearly 10 years old and interprets radiologic studies for close to 20 countries around the world.
How it works
The technology that allows for teleradiology is no rocket science, but rather a by-product of the broadband internet era. The thick undersea cables that were laid in the 90s allow for rapid global transmission of the massive files that radiologic images such as CT and MRI scans comprise, such that a scan performed in Philadelphia can be interpreted in Bangalore within minutes.
The DICOM standard, developed in 1993, ensures that all scanning equipment speaks the same electronic language around the world. And the software that allows the images to be viewed on a computer workstation (called PACS), the reporting platform or RIS (Radiology Information system) that stores and distributes the radiologists reports and the voice recognition tools that make report dictation seamless are all the other parts of the teleradiology jigsaw.
Technology allows us to solve many of the problems that plague the healthcare industry – the greatest being the shortage of skilled manpower, such as radiologists. By electronically transporting the images across the globe, a key productivity benefit is achieved, ie that no radiologist need be up at night, which means that staffing needs are significantly optimized and costs are lowered (the cost of running a daytime operation is inevitably lower than running a night one, given that a radiologist working nights typically works only one night in 2 or 3, to allow for recovery).
Plus you have the benefit of having an awake and alert radiologist who is working at 3 PM his/her time instead of 3 AM. This translates into greater customer satisfaction on the part of the Emergency physician who gets an immediate report, reducing the patient waiting time in the Emergency Department. And studies show that fewer medical errors are made by physicians who are not sleep deprived.
We provide reporting services to remote parts of Asia and Africa where no radiologist is available.This reduces the time taken to interpret an imaging examination, which translates into earlier diagnosis and early administration of appropriate therapy, all at a significantly lower cost.
In the early days of our company we realized that the reporting and workflow software products that were available in the market were more focussed on in-hospital single-site radiology departments. However given that we had a global workforce of radiologists, based in the US, Europe, India, Israel and even China, and also had hospital clients in a multitude of locations, something more robust was required to meet our special needs. So we decided to develop our own workflow tool.
Initially we outsourced the development and then later recruited our own small team of software developers. Over the years, our radiologists tweaked and fine-tuned the product to meet our own specific needs and we realized that we had developed something truly unique, one that would be of great benefit to radiologists everywhere. This led to the incorporation of a separate technology company (TeleradTech) led by a dynamic young CEO whom we recruited from a technology background, who was looking for an industry change. His team took our product and rapidly transformed it from a beat-up old pickup into a glistening BMW (evocatively called Radspa), and then proceeded to sell it.
Today we have further incorporated a number of other transformational technology tools into our organization, such as telemedicine consultation and e-learning using web-conferencing tools, all of which have given us a competitive advantage in a highly competitive sector.
Through our Telerad Foundation, we have succeeded in providing services to tiny hospitals in remote corners of our country. Through our teaching website www.radguru.net we are able to share the wealth of case material we have compiled over the years, and do our bit to grow the stable of new, young radiologists who will help meet the demands of the future.
And as we grow, we continue to gain new respect for how technology can transform our industry, and constantly look for innovative new technologies that will facilitate more seamless, rapid and accurate image interpretation using Teleradiology.