A new teleradiology strategy looks set to galvanize collaboration between hospitals in western France, delegates at the French national radiology congress (JFR) heard on Friday. Dr. Jean-Yves Gauvrit told attendees how his hospital in Brittany is spearheading a new strategy to build a closer-knit teleradiology community among local radiologists.
The network is slated to be implemented in 2020 and is the first of its kind that focuses on "proximity" in Brittany's department of Ille-et-Vilaine. It includes both public and private practitioners, said Gauvrit, who is a professor of radiology and head of imaging at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) de Rennes.
In contrast to external teleradiology companies, whose readers can be based elsewhere in a country or even abroad, the five departmental public hospitals initially involved in the network (Rennes, Saint-Malo, Redon, Fougères, and Vitré), will be able to send their images for interpretation to radiologists situated no more than 25 km to 40 km from the site. These most likely will be a mix of hospital radiologists from Pontchaillou and private radiologists from centers in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine.
"The five hospitals are already involved in teleradiology activity with external companies, but the advantage of the new scheme is that hospital radiologists can develop a personal relationship with the interpreter," Gauvrit noted. "This teleradiologist could even attend onsite multidiscipline case meetings, if need be, or call to chat about the details of the exam."
The aim over 2021 and 2022 is to establish other teleradiology networks in the remaining three departments of Brittany: Côtes-d'Armor, Finistère, and Morbihan, he added. Similarly, each would comprise a mix of interpreting radiologists from the private and public sectors.
In an age of digital systems and remote practice, it would be logical to assume that physical distance was no longer important, but Gauvrit would disagree.
"Brittany is neither behind nor in front of the game in terms of teleradiology, but people like to know who they are working with," he said. "It makes sense for a hospital in Quimper to send images to a teleradiologist in Concarneau, rather than Redon, but the idea would be for departments to reach out to each other reciprocally when needed."
Financially, there will be no change in how teleradiology for public hospitals is paid for: namely, through the taxpayers' contributions. However, questions remain over the network's administrative structure, as well as its legal status -- whether it will be created as a public organization or developed as a private company. And if it is the latter, radiologists may wonder whether it will really bring anything different to the table.
Gauvrit believes so. First, the teleradiology networks will have a charter that will oblige them to prioritize geographical proximity when engaging teleradiologists.
Second, there will be a sense of win-win for all the departmental doctors concerned: Public radiologists will have the chance for improved remuneration, as well as a chance to work differently from their normal routine. Meanwhile, private radiologists will be able to increase their expertise in niche areas, according to Gauvrit, who subspecializes in MRI and neuroradiology.
"One of the problems of the smaller private centers is that their radiologists tend to have to generalize," he noted. "However, as a teleradiologist working with several hospitals, he or she can increase the number of exams interpreted in one area. This chance to increase their specific expertise is a real pull for private radiologists."