Radiology in 2040

A new Radiology Journal editorial shared a radical vision for how the specialty will operate in 2040, warning that “seismic” changes will require radiologists to overhaul their roles in order to thrive, or even stay relevant.

Here’s what the authors expect:

Super Reporting – Radiology reporting will become far more automatic and dynamic, as reports embrace multimedia formats, become far more accessible and patient-friendly, and integrate into automatic follow-up systems.

Disease Focus – The growth of at-home care and the emergence of mobile and self-examination imaging technologies will force radiology workflows to become organized by diseases, rather than by patients’ “location” (ED, ICU, etc.).

Inevitable AI – “AI will not replace radiology,” but it will “profoundly affect [radiologists’] relevance and workflow” as algorithms become more comprehensive, autonomous, and accurate.

The AI Threat – AI will eliminate many current radiologist tasks, but its greatest threat to radiology would come from referring physicians using imaging AI independently. 

Multi-Diagnostics – The rise of non–imaging precision diagnostics (ie, “liquid biopsies”) and multimodal/multiomic diagnostics will reduce imaging’s role in disease detection, and lead to a more-integrated diagnostic and treatment planning process.

Future Therapy – Major advances in precision imaging, image-guided technology, and theranostics would allow radiology to increase its clinical value by owning image-related procedures.

Those are some major changes, and would require radiologists to take similarly major actions in order to thrive in 2040 and beyond:

  • Understand that image interpretation will become a commodity, and maybe “obsolete”
  • Maintain a “laser-sharp” focus on adding value across the healthcare continuum 
  • Actively embrace radiologists’ role as AI’s primary users, owners, and managers
  • “Extensively cultivate” radiology’s interventional and theranostics capabilities

The Takeaway
It’s impossible to accurately predict how medicine will evolve over the next two decades, and there’s surely plenty of readers who are growing tired of obsolescence warnings.

That said, the authors are very well-respected and each of their forecasts can be directly linked to today’s emerging trends, suggesting that radiologists who follow their advice might be more likely to “thrive” in 2040 regardless of how the future unfolds.

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