Radiologic technologists are essential members of any health care team from the emergency department (ED) to cardiology and pediatrics. The work they do, both with the patient and behind the scenes, impacts patient outcomes, as well as the function and operational success of the radiology department on a daily basis.
When times get tough, heroes emerge. Especially true during the global pandemic, radiologic technologists worked tirelessly to image many sick patients so clinicians could quickly diagnose and treat patients infected with the virus. The frantic pace and high volumes of patients coming to EDs became the new normal for hospitals and health facilities. Many patients received X-Ray or CT exams that were critical to the detection of COVID-19.
Even before the pandemic crisis, however, the demand for imaging was growing. An estimated 4.2 billion imaging procedures were performed in 2019. X-Ray and ultrasound tests make up slightly more than 80 percent of that total. More than 80 percent of all hospital and health system visits include at least one imaging exam. Radiologists and X-Ray technologists are often the first encounter a patient has when they present to the ED or to their physician with abnormal symptoms and need an answer. Answers to patients’ clinical questions depend on accurate imaging exams and the technologists who acquire them, making X-Ray technologists a vital part of the radiology medical team. Earlier this year, GE Healthcare launched the X-Ray Technologist Awards and a call for entries to celebrate technologists who have dedicated their time and talent to advance the quality of patient care. Highlighting some of the excellent submissions, GE Healthcare would like to shine a light on the work that X-Ray and radiologic technologists are doing to enhance patient care and streamline the radiology workflow.
Improving patient care and satisfaction
The skillset for medical radiologic technologists (MRTs) is two-fold. While they need technical training on the imaging equipment and systems they use, as well as have an intricate understanding of anatomy, they also need interpersonal skills for dealing with patients one-on-one. The ability to listen and take queues from patients about how they’re feeling and having the ability to calm them when necessary is vital. Data has shown that image quality improves when there is improved communication between the imaging staff and the patient. Skills and training to help reduce patient anxiety are critically important because technologists are the ones interacting with patients before, during and immediately after their imaging exams.
It is not uncommon to hear that technologists have gone above and beyond to improve their patients’ experiences in radiology. One such example is from Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Canada. Sara Zarazun, a general X-Ray technologist was working with a patient who mentioned her story as a child burn victim and who becomes traumatized from time to time with flashback memories. While in Zarazun’s care, the hospital fire alarm sounded, and the patient became very anxious. Zarazun stayed with her and held her hand, but noticed she was still shaking after the exam was completed. She accompanied the patient to the outpatient lab on another floor, waited there with her and then walked her out of the hospital when her tests were completed. The patient wrote a letter to the hospital’s executive staff to praise Zarazun’s compassion and caring.
During the early stages of the pandemic, Teresa Marie Neal, lead technologist at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Portland, Oregon, took advantage of the department’s down time and worked to create a more relaxing imaging environment for the children who come in for exams. She organized the X-Ray exam rooms to be painted in calming colors and created a theme for each room. Neal even hand painted the murals in the safari-themed room which included elephants, lions, zebras, and giraffes. She also encouraged her team members to take part so that they could also enjoy ownership of the project. Neal and the radiology team at Shriners have reimagined the imaging exam rooms to make children’s experiences in radiology less stressful and more enjoyable.
Impacting the radiology workflow
When it comes to improving patient outcomes, managing a smooth operation can have a significant impact on patient care. As the primary operators of imaging equipment in the department, technologists have a complex workflow that includes:
- preparing equipment for use,
- preparing examination rooms for patient exams,
- explaining procedures to patients and answering questions,
- positioning patients for imaging exams,
- monitoring and communicating with patients during exams,
- documenting exam and imaging data for the radiologists to analyze and report.
Despite the already comprehensive workflow, many technologists take the initiative to take on other roles as well, such as additional modality training, staff training and supervisory roles, and departmental leadership roles. One such example stands out. An X-Ray technologist at Virtua Hospital in NJ, Michelle Voorhees committed to improving the radiology workflow and driving clinical excellence during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
Voorhees’ goal was for Virtua radiology to continue to be able to provide care to patients while reducing technologists’ exposure to COVID-19. Already having achieved the level of junior physicist, Voorhees worked with the physics team to create a program that allowed the technologists to take portable chest X-Rays “through the glass” of the ED and intensive care unit (ICU) patient rooms. She worked with the NJ Department of Environmental protection to request a special waiver for these exams. Within hours of submission, the waiver was approved, and Voorhees went on to educate, train and work side by side with technologists to ensure image consistency and quality was maintained. These actions minimized Virtua staff’s exposure to COVID-19, decreased personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, and saved on cleaning supplies.
Delivering on the promise of better outcomes
As radiology continues to innovate with novel and more comprehensive diagnostic imaging tools, radiologic technologists are keeping pace, increasing training and introducing quality controls for imaging consistency and care delivery. Maintaining clinical excellence—the expertise, efficiency, and dedication that technologists incorporate into clinical practice supports the overarching goals of the radiology department, as well as the entire hospital or healthcare facility.
Even in uncertain times, radiologic technologists step up to support the needs of patients and staff. Stephanie Sczepankiewicz, diagnostic imaging manager and technologist at South Bend Orthopedic Associates in South Bend, Indiana was recognized for her commitment and dedication when she lost a staff member, who left her position due to COVID concerns. To avoid canceling as many as 25 MRI appointments per week, Sczepankiewicz jumped in to cover the open shift by working 14-hour shifts, three days per week, plus a few weekends. During her time working with X-ray, MRI and CT patients, her observations led to numerous process improvements towards a more streamlined workflow, increased technologist training based on needs that she identified while working in the department, as well as improved patient experiences.
Clearly, the efforts of X-Ray and radiologic technologists do not go unnoticed by radiologists, hospital administrators and most especially, by patients, who are directly impacted by the care and dedication of these professionals.
To view more examples of how technologists are going above and beyond for their patients daily, please visit https://xrayawards.ge.events.
View GE Healthcare’s X-ray systems and solutions to help drive workflow improvements and better patient outcomes.
 2019 Global Imaging Outlook Report, IMV, https://imvinfo.com/
 Smith-Bindman R, Miglioretti DL, Johnson E, et al. Use of diagnostic imaging studies and associated radiation exposure for patients enrolled in large integrated health care systems, 1996-2010. JAMA. 2012;307(22):2400-2409.
 Reduction of Patient Anxiety in PET/CT Imaging by Improving Communication Between Patient and Technologist
Shelley N. Acuff, Yong C. Bradley, Patrick Barlow, Dustin R. Osborne
Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology Sep 2014, 42 (3) 211-217; DOI: 10.2967/jnmt.114.139915