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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center

 

Local teleradiology program serves Veterans

Brian Thorpe, radiologist

Brian Thorpe, radiologist, reads a scan for a patient after hours as part of the VISN 7 Teleradiology Program.

By Meredith Hagen, Lead Public Affairs Specialist
Monday, August 24, 2015

Swing by the Radiology Department here at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center after hours, long after the hallways have darkened and most of the staff have gone home for the evening, and you will find a couple of dedicated radiologists sitting in a darkened room and analyzing scans for patients located not only in Charleston, but across the southeast region.

The VISN 7 Teleradiology Program was created and housed within the Radiology Service at the Charleston VAMC with the goal of reducing local and regional costs by decreasing the number of radiological studies that are sent to providers outside of the VA system to be read, while also improving patient care through a reduction in turn-around time.

"I initially conceived this project when reviewing the bills that were being generated across the VISN for teleradiology services," said Chief of Radiology Service Alexander Dibona. "At that time we were using a third party vendor and the costs were astronomical. It occurred to me that we should be able to provide at least a part of that service for the VISN at much lower cost. We already had a great deal of the needed infrastructure in place in the form of workstations and related hardware components. We just weren't using that equipment at night and if we could get some radiologists in house overnight we should be able to make very cost effective use of existing equipment."

The program went live in October of 2014 with radiologists reading local studies as well as some routine cases for Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in Alabama, which was experiencing a radiology backlog at that time due to low staffing.

Now, the teleradiolgists read routine studies for the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia and will begin reading scans for patients from the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia soon.

"Our radiologists read between 100 and 150 scans per night," said Andrew Barden, administrative officer for Charleston VAMC's Radiology Service. "We are also the only VISN currently operating a VISN-wide teleradiology program housed within a local medical center."

Through April of 2015, the program has created a cost savings for the region of $383,515 and has read a total of 10,322 studies. And those numbers and savings continue to rise.

"For Charleston the benefits of this program are the potential for revenue generation," said Dibona. "By having in-house radiologists, we no longer have a need for overnight teleradiology, which saves us money. For other facilities, this program has allowed them to reduce wait times for interpretations and has cleared a backlog of unread cases in some instances. All of this is provided for free via VISN grant funding and once we begin billing for our services we will do so for less that is currently charged by their prior outside teleradiology services."

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