The Neighborhood Radiologist
Practices across the country are getting involved in their communities to connect with patients and spread the word about the role of the specialty in health care.
Earlier this month, radiologists, radiation oncologists, and medical physicists around the world turned their attention to showcasing their specialty on the International Day of Radiology.
On display were examples of how the discovery of the X-ray led to advances that have revolutionized the way physicians care for their patients. For many radiologists, both on November 8 and throughout the year, their calling extends beyond the patients who walk through their doors and includes the community at large.
Radiology practices find a variety of ways to get involved in their communities. Each comes with its own set of challenges and rewards.
Public awareness initiatives focus on educating the community about valuable imaging screenings. The average patient has heard about mammography and other preventative screenings, but confusion remains about when and how to go about obtaining these and other vital imaging procedures. Radiologists from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine participate in a variety of public health campaigns and events, often staffing booths and serving on "ask-the-expert" panels. "These events give us a chance to reach out to people and tell them about the relevance and importance of imaging as it relates to their health," says Scott A. Mirowitz, MD, FACR, professor and chair of radiology at Loyola. "There's always time to answer questions, clear up any misconceptions, or just provide information."
The outpatient services department at Baptist Health of South Florida focuses its outreach efforts on women's imaging. Radiologists host a lecture series aimed at educating patients about breast health, including the importance of cancer screening. "Women in general are great advocates for their own health," says Maria Pilar Martinez, MD, a radiologist with Radiology Associates of South Florida who works at the hospital. "Everyone has a family member, friend, or acquaintance who has been affected by breast cancer. I find the public is thirsty for information coming from experts in the field."
Hedvig Hricak, MD, PhD, FACR, and her colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City concentrate their efforts on individuals who are too young to be thinking about routine screenings. Their charges are still in high school. In 2004, Hricak launched a program called Radiology Giving Back to New York. Each year, the program brings together 80 high school students from throughout New York City to learn about the field of radiology, visit the radiology department at Sloan-Kettering, and participate in internships at nearby research labs. At the event, students learn about all members of the radiology department, including radiologists, medical physicists, technologists, nurses, administrators, and researchers.
Hricak and her colleagues stay in touch with some of the students, even receiving thank you notes following the event, sometimes with news of students' career paths. "It's fun to see the students' excitement," says Hricak. "Over the years we have influenced a number of students to think about careers in medicine. I know we have one participant who went to medical school, and many others became nurses or technologists."
Practices may also set aside a certain number of procedures and interpretations for patients who would not otherwise have access to such care. Washington Radiology Associates in the Washington, D.C., metro area builds on 65 years of providing imaging to underserved populations and currently has partnerships with more than 12 different clinics. South Miami Hospital offers imaging to low-income patients, focusing on mammograms through the Women's Breast Health Initiative. "Screening mammography is a pivotal contribution of our field that has truly impacted the community at large," says Martinez. "I feel the need to extend mammography benefits to those in need who may otherwise not have access to the technology." Meanwhile, Mirowitz's department also offers mammograms in addition to CTs to a set number of low-income patients each year.
Radiologists also volunteer non-clinical help or help raise funds for a variety of local causes. Opportunities include 5K runs (or walks), food drives, and holiday-related events. Mirowitz's faculty and staff look forward to the Thanksgiving basket donation all year. "Last year, we had a competition where people throughout the department organized into teams and produced baskets filled with food, clothing, blankets, and other things that needy families in the community might value at that time of year," he says. "We had some unbelievably creative baskets filled with lots of great stuff. I think everybody had a great time doing it and knew that they were doing a good thing for others at the same time."
Many radiologists view community outreach efforts as simply an extension of their normal practice. "It's a way to come together to remind ourselves of why we're here in health care," says Mirowitz. "And all too easily, we can become a little bit detached from interfacing directly with patients just by the nature of what we do. It's nice to have this opportunity to step out of the reading room and to really meet the patients whom we serve."
Radiologists also cite the benefits to staff bonding and morale, particularly in today's demanding economic climate. "With the current environment of public scrutiny, metrics, and ever greater expectations for radiology services, these good-faith programs provide a sense of camaraderie and contributing to a greater cause," says Martinez. Such initiatives that include other clinicians can also strengthen relationships outside of radiology. "Radiologists think of themselves not only as diagnosticians but also as consultants," says Daniel M. Marder, MD, FACR, a radiologist at Washington Radiology Associates. "But most clinicians don't utilize them in that way. In our relationship with the clinics it's easier for us to promote this role and to encourage the referring clinicians to call us with questions."
A fortunate byproduct of community involvement is its potential to raise radiology's profile among the public at large. "These local efforts work to enhance patients' and the public's perception and appreciation of what radiologists do and how they contribute to efficient health care I think that's good for our field in general," says Mirowitz. Radiology Giving Back to New York also helps raise awareness about radiology, and each student leaving the event has a more complete understanding of radiologists' role in health care. "They're going to understand the importance of radiology and, hopefully, take an interest in the field for the rest of their lives," says Hricak.
While the opportunities to get involved are varied, the reasons to serve are pretty simple. "You live and work here," says Marder. "You're part of the community."
By Lyndsee Cordes