Radiology – the use of imaging to diagnose and treat diseases - represents nearly 8% of total national expenditure on health care in South Africa, yet the country is facing an acute shortage of this skill, with the result that innovative solutions are required to deal with this crisis.
This is according to Mike Simpson, CEO of IntriHEALTH, who says that while the current shortage of radiologists needs to be addressed, urgent solutions are required to ensure that the provision of radiological services is not hampered in the meantime. “There are innovative ways of addressing the shortage of radiologists, such as secure and remote accessing of patient files. The fact is that with technological advancements, medical specialists do not always have to be present to be able to diagnose the patient.”
There are an estimated 650 registered radiologists in South Africa, which equates to 1.2 radiologists per 100 000 people in the population. By contrast, the UK has approximately 3 000 registered radiologists with a ratio of 4.7 specialists per 100 000 while the European average is 10 per 100 000.
“It is clear that South Africa is facing a massive skills shortage within radiology. This is highly concerning as radiology is one of the largest categories of hospital budgets as it is utilised in almost every patient and disease category,” he adds.
He says technological advances; however, have made it possible for a greater amount of people to have access to the expertise of radiologists despite the relatively small pool of these practitioners. “For example, diagnostic viewers allow for remote reporting which enable radiologists to access a patient’s scans on smart devices with Android, Windows, OSX & iOS operating systems.”
Furthermore, these new innovations mean that someone can now easily obtain 3D rendering of scans. “This means a radiologist in Cape Town can access a patient’s file from nearly 2 000 kilometres away at a hospital in Musina, assess the scan in 3D and send a diagnosis back in real-time,” Simpson says.
Simpson also notes that medical institutions can consider outsourcing the archiving of their images in order to free up physical storage space and reduce operational costs associated with physical filing. “A secure, cloud-based archive of scans provides instant access to files for practitioners, unlimited storage space without the problem of decay that comes with physical files.”
“Furthermore, a digital archive also allows a patient to instantly transfer their files should they visit another doctor, with both parties able to gain access to this patient history,” adds Simpson.
“South Africa’s healthcare system cannot continue to operate in the current situation, where a shortage in radiologists can potentially delay or even prevent a correct diagnosis. It is imperative that we identify and utilise solutions that can assist in delivering radiological services to citizens, regardless of whether their closest medical facility has access to a radiologist on-site,” concludes Simpson.