Is Head CT Overused in the ED?

A new study suggests that head CT could be overused in the emergency department for patients presenting with conditions like headache and dizziness. Writing in a paper in Internal and Emergency Medicine, researchers looking at CT angiography use at a large medical center found a big increase in CTA utilization – even as the rate of positive findings dropped. 

CTA is a powerful tool that can quickly and efficiently give clinicians information to guide treatment of acute neurovascular conditions like aneurysm and stroke. 

  • As such, many emergency departments have been installing their own CT scanners to enable them to scan emergent patients without transporting them to the radiology department. 

But with great power comes great responsibility, and there is always the temptation to scan first and ask questions later. 

  • To better understand changing CTA use in the emergency setting, researchers from the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute analyzed CTA exams at a level 1 trauma center that sees about 110k emergency patients a year.

Researchers analyzed 25k ED visits from 2017 to 2021 and correlated them to head and neck CTA exams for headache and/or dizziness, finding …

  • The rate of CTA exams rose 64%, from 7.9% of ED visits to 13%
  • Symptomatic patients were 15% more likely to have a CTA in 2021 versus 2017
  • The rate of positive CTA findings fell 38%, from 17% to 10%
  • Patients with private insurance were more likely to have CTA (OR=1.44)
  • Black patients were less likely to be scanned (OR=0.69)

The researchers said the findings indicate the need for better clinical decision support tools, which they believe can help emergency physicians provide an accurate diagnosis without exposing patients to unnecessary radiation and incurring additional cost. 

The Takeaway

This study further confirms widespread accounts that head and neck CTA is overused and on the rise. As the US government backs off on its attempt to force clinical decision support on referring physicians, it may be up to health systems and providers themselves to ensure more appropriate utilization – in a way that doesn’t rely on heavy-handed tools like prior authorization. 

The 35 Best Radiology Sources

Our list of the top radiology news sources last year generated a lot of excitement, so we’re updating the list for 2024 with the people and publications we rely on to find the most interesting medical imaging stories. 

Top Radiology Sites

From a radiology newsletter with a laser focus on AI to an educational site with thousands of radiology cases, you’re sure to find something that meets your needs from the list below.

  • AI for Radiology – A great source for news on AI, including the Project AIR testing clearinghouse.
  • DI Europe – Two European journalists reviving one of radiology’s most venerable brands.
  • Medality Radiology Report Podcast – Medality CEO Daniel Arnold interviews the biggest names in medical imaging. Think Howard Stern for radiology.
  • radHQ.net Forums – In a short time this has become the go-to public bulletin board for radiologists. Bring popcorn. 
  • Radiopaedia – The best site for educational radiology content, bar none.
  • Signify Research – Home of the best radiology market analysis, backed by actual market data.

Top Radiology Key Opinion Leaders

Radiology is fortunate to have a wealth of really smart people sharing their thoughts on medical imaging technology. Here are a few of the best.

  • Jan Beger – OEM executive with insightful high-level thoughts on AI.
  • Mike Cannavo – The one and only PACSman, with invaluable insights on AI and enterprise imaging.
  • Francis Deng, MD – Great analysis of radiology education and residency trends.
  • Rich Duszak, MD – Always a superb source for radiology leadership and responsible imaging.
  • Tobias Gilk – Radiology’s conscience on MRI safety. 
  • Tom Greeson – The authority for perspectives on legal issues in radiology.
  • Laura Heacock, MD – A leading voice on AI research and advancements.
  • Saurabh Jha, MBBS – Delivers keen radiology insights with a biting wit.
  • John Kalafut, PhD – Former vendor executive now offering AI wisdom.
  • Woojin Kim, MD – One of radiology’s best sources for keeping up with the latest AI research. 
  • Amine Korchi, MD – A radiologist with an eye for business news.
  • Nina Kottler, MD – Eloquent and informed insights from the frontlines of imaging. 
  • Curt Langlotz, MD, PhD – The first place we look for imaging AI context.
  • Rizwan Malik, MD – Incredibly insightful and uniquely autobiographical. 
  • Geraldine McGinty, MD – New platform, but still the moral compass of radiology.
  • Herman Oosterwijk – The unquestioned authority on DICOM and enterprise imaging.
  • Sebastian Schmidt – OEM executive with insightful analysis on CT lung cancer screening.
  • Vikas Shah, MD – Radiopaedia managing editor. Come for the educational content, stay for the dart takes. 
  • Ben White, MD – Excellent insights into the vagaries of being a working radiologist.
  • Reza Zahiri – Detailed LinkedIn posts that deconstruct the financial positions of medical imaging vendors.

Healthcare Newsletters and Sites

Looking to get out of the radiology niche and broaden your horizons? Check out some of these healthcare newsletters and websites.

The Takeaway

This list should cover all your bases for staying informed about the latest developments in radiology news, especially in the red-hot AI segment. Or, just sign up for The Imaging Wire and we’ll do it for you.

PS – As always, if there’s any radiology publications or healthcare news sources that should be on this list, let us know!

MRI’s Value for Prostate Screening

Among cancer screening tests, prostate screening could be the most problematic. But a new study published this week in JAMA Network Open offers guidance on the role that MRI can play in making prostate screening more effective – and opening the door to population-based screening.

The problem with prostate screening is that PSA tests often discover disease that’s either indolent or slow-growing. 

  • This can lead to a cascade of interventions that are expensive and have harms of their own. 

But prostate cancer remains a common – and deadly – cancer, with 1.5M cases globally in 2022, and it’s the second most commonly occurring cancer in men after lung cancer.

  • Given these statistics, there has to be a way to perform prostate screening more effectively.

MRI offers one such alternative, and a clinical consensus has emerged that performing a single MRI scan after a positive PSA result can help stratify men before biopsy. 

  • In this scenario, men might not be referred to biopsy if their MRI scan is negative, and adoption of this protocol has helped reduce prostate biopsies in PSA-positive men while still detecting clinically significant cancer.   

But if one MRI scan is good, are repeat MRI scans even better? In the new study, Swedish researchers investigated this question in a secondary analysis of the STHLM3-MRI trial, which involved repeat screening of 1.5k men 2-3 years after an original prostate screening.

Of the group who got repeat PSA and MRI screening, 667 men had PSA levels of 3 ng/mL or higher, the threshold for MRI testing, with the repeat scans finding … 

  • 51 men (7.6%) had equivocal lesions (PI-RADS score of 3)
  • 33 men (4.9%) had suspicious lesions (PI-RADS score of 4)
  • Only 10 men (1.5%) had lesions with PI-RADS scores of 4 or greater

The findings led the authors to conclude that cancer detection was “limited” in the second round of PSA and MRI prostate screening, and detection of low-grade tumors was low.

The Takeaway

At first blush, STHLM3-MRI may seem like a negative study, but it actually helps frame the debate over prostate cancer screening and MRI’s role by omitting the need for multiple repeat scans. The results also give clinicians confidence that it’s safe to omit prostate biopsies in men who have a single negative MRI result – a key finding in reducing the downstream costs of any population-based screening program.

Imaging and COVID Vaccine Effectiveness

In the debate over how long the protection from COVID-19 vaccines last, radiology has now entered the chat. A new study in Radiology shows that people with COVID who got vaccinated more than eight months before COVID diagnosis had more severe clinical findings on imaging exams. 

The rapid development of COVID vaccines and their rollout worldwide has been one of the biggest public health success stories of the last 100 years. 

  • Still, even the most effective vaccines lose their potency over time, and COVID vaccines are no different. 

The question is, how long does the COVID vaccine’s protection last? 

  • Previous research documented a decline during the Delta and Omicron waves in vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization, from 92% to 79% after 224-251 days, and a drop in efficacy against death from 91% to 86% after 168-195 days in those with severe COVID.

To shed more light on the issue, researchers in South Korea performed imaging exams on 4.2k patients with COVID from June 2021 to December 2022. 

  • They correlated the severity of clinical outcomes like pneumonia visible on imaging exams to the length of time between patient diagnosis and when they had been vaccinated. 

Compared to those vaccinated in the last 90 days before COVID diagnosis, people vaccinated more than 240 days …

  • Had almost twice odds of severe outcomes (OR = 1.94)
  • Had higher odds of severe pneumonia on chest radiographs (OR = 1.65)
  • But there was no difference in the odds of severe outcome between those vaccinated in the last 90 days and those vaccinated 91-240 days before diagnosis

In an interesting wrinkle to the study, the researchers found no statistically significant difference in odds of severe pneumonia visible on chest CT scans between those vaccinated more than 90 days before diagnosis and those vaccinated within 90 days.

  • The authors proposed that the low use of CT for pneumonia assessment in their study population (20%) and its use primarily for critically ill patients could have introduced bias into the results. 

The Takeaway

The new findings shed light on the declining potency of COVID vaccines over time and could inform public debate over the length of time between boosters. The research also dovetails with other studies showing that the vaccine’s effectiveness does indeed begin to wane at six months.

Out-of-Network Radiology Claims Fall

Is out-of-network billing – when a patient receives care outside their insurance network – still a problem in radiology? A new study in JACR shows that out-of-network commercial claims have dropped dramatically since 2007.

Out-of-network healthcare has been the focus of a number of legislative efforts in recent years as lawmakers try to protect patients from the financial sting of getting a big bill for services rendered outside their provider’s network.

  • Probably the centerpiece of this effort is the federal No Surprises Act, which went into effect in January 2022; not only did it cap the amount that patients can be billed for out-of-network services, but it created an independent dispute resolution mechanism for adjudicating disagreement between providers and payors over how much they should be paid.

The IDR mechanism has been the focus of legal wrangling in recent months, but the new study in JACR indicates that it might not be getting much use after all, at least in radiology.

Researchers from the ACR’s Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute analyzed 80M commercial claims for radiology services from 2007 to 2021, finding…

  • Out-of-network radiology claims fell dramatically (to 1.1% vs. 13%)
  • Out-of-network claims fell for inpatient stays (to 1.4% vs. 10%)
  • Claims also fell for emergency visits (to 0.4% vs. 3.9%)
  • By modality, most claims were for X-ray (57%), followed by ultrasound and CT (15% each) 
  • By 2021, radiologists practiced almost exclusively in-network

What’s the reason for the dramatic decline? The study authors credit good-faith negotiations between radiology practices and commercial payors, as well as the impact of state surprise billing laws (the study period occurred before the federal No Surprises Act went into effect).

  • Other possible factors include consolidation among practices, hospitals, and payors; expansion of academic centers into communities; and the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The Takeaway

The JACR study is welcome news for both patients and radiology practices. Patients are less likely to be hit with surprise medical charges, while practices are less likely to have to fight through the IDR process to resolve claims. In the end, everybody wins – even insurance companies.

AI Models Go Head-to-Head in Project AIR Study

One of the biggest challenges in assessing the performance of different AI algorithms is the varying conditions under which AI research studies are conducted. A new study from the Netherlands published this week in Radiology aims to correct that by testing a variety of AI algorithms head-to-head under similar conditions. 

There are over 200 AI algorithms on the European market (and even more in the US), many of which address the same clinical condition. 

  • Therefore, hospitals looking to acquire AI can find it difficult to assess the diagnostic performance of different models. 

The Project AIR initiative was launched to fill the gap in accurate assessment of AI algorithms by creating a Consumer Reports-style testing environment that’s consistent and transparent.

  • Project AIR researchers have assembled a validated database of medical images for different clinical applications, against which multiple AI algorithms can be tested; to ensure generalizability, images have come from different institutions and were acquired on equipment from different vendors. 

In the first test of the Project AIR concept, a team led by Kicky van Leeuwen of Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands invited AI developers to participate, with nine products from eight vendors validated from June 2022 to January 2023: two models for bone age prediction and seven algorithms for lung nodule assessment (one vendor participated in both tests). Results included:

  • For bone age analysis, both of the tested algorithms (Visiana and Vuno) showed “excellent correlation” with the reference standard, with an r correlation coefficient of 0.987-0.989 (1 = perfect agreement)
  • For lung nodule analysis, there was a wider spread in AUC between the algorithms and human readers, with humans posting a mean AUC of 0.81
  • Researchers found superior performance for Annalise.ai (0.90), Lunit (0.93), Milvue (0.86), and Oxipit (0.88)

What’s next on Project AIR’s testing agenda? Van Leeuwen told The Imaging Wire that the next study will involve fracture detection. Meanwhile, interested parties can follow along on leaderboards for both bone age and lung nodule use cases. 

The Takeaway

Head-to-head studies like the one conducted by Project AIR may make many AI developers squirm (several that were invited declined to participate), but they are a necessary step toward building clinician confidence in the performance of AI algorithms that needs to take place to support the widespread adoption of AI. 

Top 12 Radiology Trends for 2024

What will be the top radiology trends for 2024? We talked to key opinion leaders across the medical imaging spectrum to get their opinions on the technologies, clinical applications, and regulatory developments that will shape the specialty for the next 12 months.

AI – Generative AI to Reduce Radiology’s Workload: “New generative AI methods will summarize complex medical records, draft radiology reports from images, and explain radiology reports to patients using language they understand. These innovative systems will reduce our workload and will provide more time for us to connect with our colleagues and our patients.” — Curtis Langlotz, MD, PhD, Stanford University and president, RSNA 2024

AI – Generative AI Will Get Multimodal: “In 2024, we can expect continued innovations in generative AI with a greater emphasis on integrating GenAI into existing and new radiology and patient-facing applications with growing interests in retrieval-augmented generation, fine-tuning, smaller models, multi-model routing, and AI assistants. Medicine being multimodal, the term ‘multimodal’ will become more ubiquitous.” — Woojin Kim, MD, CMIO at Rad AI

AI – Will AI Really Reduce Radiology Burnout? “Burnout will continue to be a huge issue in radiology with no solution in sight. AI vendors will offer algorithms as solutions to burnout with catchy slogans such as ‘buy our lung nodule detector and become the radiologist your parents wanted you to be.’ Their enthusiasm will cause even more burnout.” — Saurabh Jha, MBBS, AKA RogueRad, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Breast Imaging – Prepare Now for Density Reporting: “The FDA ‘dense breast’ reporting standard to patients becomes effective on September 10, 2024, and breast imaging centers should be prepared for new patient questions and conversations. A plan for a consistent approach to recommending supplemental screening and facilitating ordering of additional imaging from referring providers should be put into action.” — JoAnn Pushkin, executive director, DenseBreast-info.org

Breast Imaging – Density Reporting to Spur Earlier Detection: “In March 2023, FDA issued a national requirement for reporting breast density to patients and referring providers after mammography. Facilities performing mammograms must meet the September 2024 deadline incorporating breast density type and associated breast cancer risk in their reporting. This change can lead to earlier breast cancer detection as these patients will be informed of supplemental screening as it relates to their breast density and [will] choose to pursue it.” — Stamatia Destounis, MD, Elizabeth Wende Breast Care and chair, ACR Breast Imaging Commission

CT – Lung Cancer Screening to Build Momentum: “Uptake of LDCT screening for lung cancer will increase in the US and worldwide. AI-enabled cardiac evaluation, even on non-gated scans, will allow for prediction of illnesses such as AFib and heart failure.  Quantifying measurement error across platforms will become an important aspect of nodule management.” — David Yankelevitz, MD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System

CT – Photon-Counting CT to Expand: “In 2024, we will continue to see many papers published on photon-counting CT, strengthening the body of scientific evidence as to its many strengths. Results from clinical trials involving multiple manufacturers’ systems will also increase in number, perhaps leading to more commercial systems entering the market.” — Cynthia McCollough, PhD, director, CT Clinical Innovation Center, Mayo Clinic

Enterprise Imaging – Time is Ripe for Cloud and AI: “Healthcare has an opportunity for change in 2024, and imaging is ripe for disruption, with burnout, staffing challenges, and new technology needs. Many organizations are expanding their enterprise imaging strategy and are asking how and where they can take the plunge into cloud and AI. Vendors have got the message; now it’s time to push the gas and deliver.” — Monique Rasband, VP of strategy & research, imaging/oncology at KLAS

Imaging IT – Data Brokerage to Go Mainstream: “A new market will hit the mainstream in 2024 – radiology data brokerage. As data-hungry LLMs scale up and the use of companion diagnostics in lifesciences proliferates, health systems will look to cash in on curated radiology data. This will also be an even bigger driver for migration to cloud-based imaging IT.” — Steve Holloway, managing director, Signify Research     

MRI – Prostate MRI to Reduce Biopsies: “Prostate MRI in conjunction with PSMA PET will explode in 2024 and reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies for patients.” — Stephen Pomeranz, MD, CEO of ProScan Imaging and chair, Naples Florida Community Hospital Network 

Theranostics – New Radiotracers to Drive Diagnosis & Treatment: “Through 2024, nuclear medicine theranostics will increasingly be integrated into standard global practice. With many new radiopharmaceuticals in development, theranostics promise early diagnosis and precision treatment for a broadening range of cancers, expanding options for patients resistant to traditional therapies. Treatments will be enhanced by personalized dosimetry, artificial intelligence, and combination therapies.” — Helen Nadel, MD, Stanford University and president, SNMMI 2023-2024

Radiology Operations – Reimbursement Challenges Continue: “In 2024, we will continue to experience recruitment challenges coupled with decreases in reimbursement. Now, more than ever, every radiologist needs to be diligent in advocating for the specialty, focus on business plan diversification, and ensure all services rendered are optimally documented and billed.” — Rebecca Farrington, chief revenue officer, Healthcare Administrative Partners 

The Takeaway
To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, radiology is indeed living in interesting times – times of “danger and uncertainty,” but also times of unprecedented creativity and innovation. In 2024, radiology will get a much better glimpse of where these trends are taking us.

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