Reflections

November Accolades: Radiologic Technologist Week

Amy Newell, Vice President, Corazon, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Amy Newell, Vice President, Corazon, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Each year, November seems to arrive faster than the last; we have again come upon the time to celebrate the radiologic technologist community. National Radiologic Technology Week (NRTW, sponsored by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists) is an annual celebration during the week that includes November 8 to commemorate the discovery of the x-ray by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen on that day in 1895. This year, NRTW is from November 6-12th. Hospitals will mark the occasion by recognizing the important work of radiologic technologists (RTs) in various subspecialties, and the vital role that all types of medical imaging professionals play in patient care.  

For many in the industry, this week will be a time for celebration and reflection, and/or teambuilding and training. Even with the increased overall focus on patient safety and quality initiatives, these two elements are particularly critical for RTs within the cardiovascular specialty, as these professionals serve a vital role in early diagnosis of several forms of cardiovascular disease. For example, for patients requiring a diagnostic catheterization or cardiac intervention, assurances of safety and quality lie in RT skill in controlling the amount of radiation exposure the patient receives (along with the clinicians and physicians within the procedures suite). Radiation exposure and safety continue to be important topics emphasized and discussed in today’s societal publications and outcome reports.   

Personally, I fondly remember my beginnings as a radiologic technologist. All of the clinical classroom and “hands-on” instruction was invaluable preparation for my years as an RT, but also as transferrable skills as my career advanced into consultant work. From the fundamentals of appropriate patient care to attention to detail in patient positioning, these skills have provided confidence for taking ownership of quality in the cardiac cath lab and directing others in setting goals to achieve it. Applying the fundamental principals of quality and patient care to each and every client engagement continues to afford success and excellence for those programs expanding their basic cardiovascular services to a more comprehensive service line.   

Considering this annual tribute, and sending accolades to my fellow radiologic professionals from my past and also to current clients in the radiologic field, I think back to a time when I asked myself several key questions each time I entered the department as a means to personally ensure my best performance in terms of patient safety and quality: 

  • Did I use the correct KVp and MA for that x-ray? 
  • Is patient safety top of mind? 
  • Is my positioning textbook? 
  • What do I tell the patient if I have to repeat the x-ray?
  • How am I ensuring the highest imaging quality? 
  • Did I take the correct number of images for that series? 
  • What if I turn the light on too soon in the darkroom? 

Soon after I began working as a radiologic technologist, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to specialize in the cardiovascular service line, thus beginning my career as a cath lab RT. Not an easy task, either! But throughout my healthcare career, both as a cath lab team member and consultant, I’ve witnessed much of the evolution of cardiovascular medicine. In the early years of my cath lab career, imaging equipment was large; in fact, a true C-arm required cine film development within a darkroom. Today, the technologist is managing and utilizing more state-of-the-art and digital technologies within the cardiac cath lab, allowing more attention and responsibility to shift to hands-on patient care and quality.  

The focus of care is always shifting and priorities of the day are always changing; however, through this evolution there are two areas where we should never lose focus. No matter whether you are a team member, charge tech, supervisor, department manager, or director of the cardiovascular service line, first and foremost, patient safety and quality should always be at the top of our minds.  

Over the past decade especially, these two areas have received much attention relative to the world of cardiology. In today’s transparent healthcare environment, and as a cardiac cath lab team member, the importance of our participation in patient safety and quality each and every day cannot be understated. Consider the following:    

  • Am I prepared to provide exemplary patient care? 
  • Have I introduced myself to the patient? 
  • Do I attend (or do we even offer) cath conferences? 
  • Am I familiar with cath lab “best practices”? 
  • Do I consider the day-to-day work I do in the cath lab to be of the highest quality? 
  • Do I know where our program ranks among other cath labs my size? 
  • How do I participate in patient safety and quality every day? 

Some may consider these elementary questions to ask…but whether you work in a smaller community hospital, a tertiary medical center, or quaternary facility, this is where I challenge you, the radiologic technologist working in this very specialized field, to ask yourself: what does patient safety and quality mean to me? How is it recognized? 

Despite organizational size or status, cardiac cath labs typically run busy day-in/day-out and off hours to care for patients having an acute cardiac event.  Thankfully for the acute patient, RTs are there. There to ensure safety throughout the procedure. YOU are there to be certain whichever procedure is performed (a balloon, stent, thrombolytic therapy, or any other necessary device insertion) is performed without incident or complication, and the result is of the highest quality. Did you alone need to ensure this? As a member of a team, certainly not! The RT specialized skill set brings understanding of the reasons why a physician would chose a certain wire, balloon, or stent. Or, when the physician asks, “What do you think we should use?” it is your expertise, your attention, and your focus on patient safety that helps to afford each patient the best outcome. (And, yes, the physician will ask you YOUR opinion.)

Many patients, even before they come to a cath lab for a procedure, have already researched their options and asked questions. Patients are now savvy consumers of healthcare services. As an RT, you, too, should know how your program is performing with regard to patient safety and quality. With this information available online, patients already know the quality scores of both the physician operator and the hospital. 

We are surrounded by questions about quality: how it is measured, how it is reported, how it is maintained or improved…even to the extent of how it is defined (hospital to hospital and even within different programs of the same organization). Regardless of the subjectivity of quality itself, the reality is that hospitals nationwide are now measured in quality and compared to similar-volume programs, whether or not the comparison is completely fair and even.

The role of the RT in quality is, like the industry as a whole, evolving. In many Corazon engagements specific to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, we find the RT is given more accountability in collecting and reporting quality data, but it must go one step further. It is critical the RT understand the importance as to WHY this data is collected, along with its direct impact on patient safety and quality.  

So, in celebration of your commitment, we salute YOU – the many cardiovascular-specialized RTs that work tirelessly to provide the highest quality in patient care and patient safety. Your work does not go unnoticed, especially in the cath lab setting. This month, we hope any celebration of your work helps to re-energize your passion for the job, your commitment to your role in patient safety and quality, and your excitement for the day-to-day tasks that so positively impact the community around you. 

Amy Newell is a Vice President at Corazon, Inc., offering strategic program development for the heart, vascular, neuro, and orthopedic specialties. Corazon offers a full continuum of consulting, software solution, recruitment, and interim management services for hospitals, health systems, and practices of all sizes across the country and in Canada. To learn more, visit www.corazoninc.com or call (412) 364-8200. 
To reach the author, email anewell@corazoninc.com.