An expanded for radiographers to allow them interpret, as well as produce, diagnostic images could be part of the solution to Australia's worsening shortage of radiologists, according to a report in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
A rising demand for diagnostic imaging services, an ageing population and shrinking workforce are all contributing to pressure on current radiology services.
Dr Tony Smith, Senior Lecturer in Medical Radiation Science at the University of Newcastle, and Associate Proffessor Marilyn Baird, Head of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences at Monash University, say extending the role of senior, post-graduate trained radiographers could help meet demand.
They suggest allowing radiographers to provide a descriptive report with no medical interpretation, while radiologists would continue to provide medical reports.
Dr Smith says Australian Universities are already well placed to offer radiographers post-graduate training in image interpretation. "There appears to be no reason why some radiographers could not reach the academic standard needed to provide descriptive reports on a defined range of radiographic examination types," says Dr Smith.
In a related editorial, Dr Lizbeth Kenny, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR), and Dr Matthew Andrews, Principal Councillor in Economic Affairs and Workforce for RANZCR, support role evolution within radiology but say it is responsible to delegate the role of reporting.
The provision of an integrated radiology report is not just an interpretation of an X-ray or scan in isolation, says Dr Kenny. "It requires detailed medical knowledge to put it in perspective and the radiologist's opinion usually influences and shapes complex medical treatment. It is not responsible to delegate this responsibility to other than radiologists," says Dr Kenny.
"Focusing on image reporting by non-medical personnel assumes that preclinical, clinical and specialist training and experience can be fast-tracked or avoided without negative impact on the nature and quality of the diagnostic imaging service."
Instead, she says involving the radiologist at an earlier stage in clinical management could help avoid unnecessary diagnostic imaging and therefore ease demand.
Dr Kenny also recommends using new technologies to eliminate the need for film production by radiographers and handling by radiologists.