Timely patient follow-up is vital for ensuring patients achieve the best possible care outcomes, but this is often an area where providers fall short. According to a published report by The National Library of Medicine, shorter average follow-up times are associated with better access for patients needing urgent or routine care.
During ImagineSoftware’s recent live panel event, "Form, Function, and Patient Follow-Up: Building the Foundation for Follow-Up Care," industry experts gathered to discuss the crucial topic of patient engagement and follow-up care. The event highlighted the synergy between clinical experience, technological prowess, and entrepreneurial innovation, illustrating that when it comes to patient care, collaboration is key.
- Ben Wandtke, M.D., M.S.
Vice Chair, Quality and Safety, Department of Imaging Sciences, at the University of Rochester Medical Center
- Kirk Fontenot, BSRT, ARRT (R)(MR)(CT)
Regional Product Sales Manager HCIT, at Konica Minolta Healthcare Americas
- Adam Kirell
Sr. Director of Business Development, RadNav, at ImagineSoftware
Host Chris Mason, Director of Partner Channel Engagement at ImagineSoftware, facilitated a light-hearted yet in-depth conversation on the importance of follow-up patient care, which impacts us all on both personal and professional levels.
Recognizing Patient Follow-up as a Widespread Issue
Dr. Wandtke, a leader in quality improvement, first addressed why patient follow-up is so critical and shared his insights into solving prevalent issues in this area. As chief of radiology at a community hospital, Dr. Wandtke kicked off the discussion by spotlighting an alarming issue in healthcare – the neglect of follow-up tests for patients with detected lung nodules. He was shocked by the realization that this was happening in his own small hospital. "We saw four cases in one year... this problem is bigger than most people think it is." Delving into research, he identified this as a widespread problem, affirming that "it's happening... dozens and dozens of times" in various medical institutions, with substantial consequences for patient health.
While strides are being made in addressing this issue, Dr. Wandtke expressed dismay in learning that around 90% of health systems have not taken it seriously. The gap in patient care is vast, as he explains, "about 50% of all of the recommended follow-up tests are not being performed." This omission places numerous patients at risk of late diagnoses of lung cancer, a disease known for its deadly late-stage manifestation. As seen with lung nodules specifically, an early detection could mean the difference between life and death. Dr. Wandtke emphasized this critical crossroads in care: "Early stage cancers are very treatable, with over 50% long term survival." This stark contrast to the grim 5-10% survival rate of advanced-stage lung cancer highlights the urgency for systematic changes in following up on incidental findings.
Overcoming Challenges in Imaging Follow-Up Programs
Despite the evident benefits of follow-up programs, such as increased patient safety and continuity of care, their adoption remains uneven across healthcare centers. When speaking, Kirk Fontenot shed light on this inconsistency, noting that many centers struggle with resource limitations. Fontenot highlights a critical gap in the healthcare system – the lack of a structured follow-up process post-imaging services. Stressing that there is a pressing market need for better tracking and coordination of patient follow-ups, a sentiment echoed by healthcare providers who often respond with uncertainty when asked about their role in the follow-up process, Fontenot stated, "I visited a lot of our customers who deliver a very different imaging service... and it's all pretty much the same [when referring to patient follow-up processes]... it was a shrug of the shoulders.” When outlining the laissez-faire attitude among imaging providers toward patient aftercare, Fontenot believes this disconnect reflects a broader issue in patient engagement and continuity of care. Chris Mason captured the sentiment well, stating, "I think that's interesting. If I'm putting on my patient hat, they're probably assuming that there's some sort of coordinated follow-up between referrer [referring physician] and radiology imaging center." These insights reinforce the vital need for integrating technology solutions to bridge these gaps in patient care workflows as a promising solution in fully automating follow-up tasks using advanced software systems. "Some of the newer software systems can handle follow-ups effortlessly, which is really encouraging," Fontenot explained. These systems can weave seamlessly into existing workflows, upholding the crucial relationships between referring physicians and patients and in doing so, eradicating the burden of adopting new protocols that may otherwise demand additional personnel. Fontenot asserts, "My providers, my patients, my management would be thrilled with the implementation of follow-up programs that are efficient and beneficial for all."
Leveraging Technology for Quicker, More Efficient Follow-Ups
Adam Kirell emphasized the vital importance of patient care in the health tech industry. He stated, "At the end of the day, at some point, we may be a patient or a relative may be a patient." This personal connection to healthcare motivates Kirell's passion for ensuring that follow-up procedures aren't overlooked, as he has seen the dire consequences of such neglect within his own family. Kirell identifies a critical gap in the healthcare process – where 50% of patients do not return for recommended follow-ups – highlighting the urgent need for a systematic solution. He believes that "the patient who has the most at stake is kind of the one left in the dark," and his mission is to shed light on this issue. The goal is to "identify these things when they happen... and make the right people, including the patient, aware that something needs to be done and do it at scale and make it easy to implement." Through his work, Kirell is aiming to bridge the communication chasm between medical professionals and patients, ensuring vital follow-ups don't just fall through the cracks.
Kirell is hopeful about the prospects of these emerging technologies, particularly within ImagineSoftware’s RadNav patient follow-up application, which can be effortlessly inculcated into operations within a month. "The simplicity and efficiency are undeniable," stated Kirell. “It’s minimal effort from the imaging centers to start seeing immediate results.” This technology has enabled practices to detect critical health issues earlier than ever before. In fact, an East Coast facility experienced a jump in Breast MRI compliance rates from 50% to 87% after integrating the new system. Kirell reflects on the impact saying, "Each increase represents a potential earlier cancer detection or previously missed revenue [opportunity]."
Dr. Wandtke spoke around his development of the pivotal Backstop initiative, which ensures patients with potentially serious conditions receive appropriate and timely follow-up care. It centers on improving communication between primary care providers (PCPs), oncologists, and radiologists. The Backstop program represents a transformative advancement in managing patient care within radiology as it meticulously captures and monitors radiological recommendations to ensure follow-through by integration within an organized database. "It's created to essentially identify radiology recommendations as they're being made," Dr. Wandtke remarked. This innovation significantly expands operational efficiency beyond a single hospital to an entire health system. The incorporation of technology and strategic partnerships, as Dr. Wandtke points out, has been critical: "We've had to partner with vendors to create the technology...". Additionally, the program focuses on quality of care, adhering to best practice guidelines and reducing unnecessary imaging. Dr. Wandtke celebrates the tangible impact of these efforts: "We've kind of flipped the natural history of lung cancer..." by detecting more cases early on, drastically improving the manageability of the disease.
Ongoing Work to Bridge the Gaps
As panelists discussed, the deployment of sophisticated follow-up systems in healthcare, such as RadNav and the Backstop program, can dramatically enhance the management and continuity of patient care. These technologies promise a more efficient, patient-centric approach, ensuring that critical medical recommendations are not only made, but also acted upon. By automating and streamlining the follow-up process, the likelihood of early disease detection increases, and patient outcomes improve while the operational productivity of healthcare facilities strengthen. As healthcare continues to evolve, these innovations stand as a testament to what can be achieved when technology is harnessed to address the meticulous demands of patient care coordination. The commitment of industry professionals like Kirk Fontenot and Adam Kirell, and pioneers like Dr. Wandtke, to revolutionize radiology practices exemplifies a forward-thinking pursuit to bridge the existing communication gaps. Their work is a beacon of hope for patients and providers alike, signaling the dawn of a new era in healthcare where no patient is left in the dark and life-saving interventions are made in time.