Looking Into the Future at ACR 2016

Much of the discussion at this year’s annual meeting revolved around upcoming technologies and emerging shifts in the patient experience. 

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The ACR 2016 meeting  provided a wonderful venue for radiologist from all types of practice to gather and exchange ideas regarding the topics most important to our specialty.

Session tracks were focused on advocacy, economics and health policy, clinical education, clinical research, governance, informatics and innovation, leadership, and quality and safety. Radiologists chose sessions in their particular area of excellence or sampled topics of interest from many tracks.

An important feature of a professional society is the ability to foster expressions of ideas and exchange of knowledge. While some may shy away from controversial subjects or speakers who are likely to express divergent opinions, I for one celebrate the opportunity to hear what policymakers and others outside our specialty are thinking about our profession and its future.

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One of these controversial voices was Ezekiel Emanuel, PhD, MD, MSc, our keynote speaker. Emanuel gave a dire prognosis in which radiologists are replaced by machines in the not-too-distant future. While the technical evolution toward artificial intelligence is inevitable, it is likely that many disciplines in medicine and beyond will be affected. Lawyer-less lawsuits, author-less journalism, and oncologist-less chemotherapy may be the future. 

As Emanuel stated, our future success lies in our ability to collectively preserve the human element of our profession. As David C. Kushner, MD, FACR, said in his presidential address, it is critical that radiologists make themselves invaluable members of the care team. So long as we keep the patients at the center of our focus, I’m confident that we can leverage the technical evolution toward machine learning and artificial intelligence for improved diagnosis, reduced error, and greater efficiency. 

Certainly, the overflow attendance at the educational session focused on machine learning speaks to the thirst for knowledge about this important area. Moreover, I was very pleased to see the rich attendance at the Clinical Data Science Industry Council Meeting, which took place during the ACR 2016 meeting. Here, ACR leaders convened a group of industry representatives focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence. The group discussed important trends in this emerging industry. 

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A key action item that emerged from this council meeting also surfaced during the Economics Forum. Rosemarie Ryan, co-CEO and a founder of customer service strategy company Co:Collective, highlighted the need for good storytelling for our profession. According to Ryan, effective storytelling can lead to organizational change that engenders customer loyalty. Ryan’s message to radiologists was a simple one: you must figure out what radiology’s story is. By conveying your value to patients, referring physicians, and the broader health system, radiologists will be able to harness the power of machine learning without becoming obsolete in the process. 

In this same vein, the Clinical Data Science Industry Council identified the need for uniform messaging around the potential benefits of machine learning for our specialty. Communicating openly and constructively will help avoid the fear that this technology will replace our jobs. Instead, we can change the conversation and take control of this important technical evolution for the benefit of our patients and our profession. 


BrinkBy James A. Brink, MD, FACR, Chair

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