Addressing Burnout in Radiology

Jun 07, 2021 at 12:04 pm by pj

Take a look at what AI can do for your practice




Recently, the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR) published a full-length article entitled, How Radiology Leaders Can Address Burnout. The article emphasizes the role leaders play in burnout and that moving forward, we will be held accountable and expected to address the topic with our team.    

While case overload is commonly linked to burnout, we now know that this is not the primary cause. Several medical associations note that the stress and pressure we feel is connected to our desire to help patients. However, the reality is, we don’t have the time to do what we do best. We’re overwhelmed with the demand for our time, the growing administrative functions required of us, and working on outdated equipment. 

I’ll share a perspective based on my prior experience working at two private practices and training at a few academic medical centers. I believe this perspective is common in the radiologist community. In each of these prior settings I felt frustrated working with archaic systems that constantly crashed, knowing that each time I’d have to wait 10-15 minutes for it to restart. The pressure rose when I had to complete a report quickly because patients are waiting. Commiserating with others on our team rarely happened because most of us were constantly working. I usually arrived early, left late, and worked through lunch. I was exhausted by the time my shift ended. 

Radiologists historically have been regarded as a specialty that encourages quality of life, together with emergency medicine, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, and dermatology. However, because of rising burnout, job fulfillment has plummeted, and a growing percentage are seriously considering leaving the field for a different career. 

The JACR article highlighting the pressures physicians face is a first step to acknowledging the problem. Another step is to find a solution to fix the problem. I believe that technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), could solve much of the administrative tasks that have held us back from our most important role — caring for our patients.  

We’re seeing this in my current practice at Nines Radiology. We apply AI and machine learning to help our radiologists regain their love for medicine. We brought on full-time engineers and had them work with our radiologists to uncover new ways of improving clinical workflows. Together, they harnessed the power of machine learning to develop a solution for batching reports so radiologists are not wasting time looking for various studies. Our team also developed an “always ready” worklist so radiologists can work on those reports that include all necessary information, and not be distracted by the ones with data still being populated or missing. The results have been significant. 

By cutting the amount of time spent on administrative burden and workflow inefficiencies, our radiologists are not feeling overwhelmed. Their communication with our engineers — which occurs in real time — gives them the comfort of knowing that any obstacles or change that comes up will quickly be resolved. 

As president of our radiology group, I am always collaborating with engineers and radiologists looking for nuances to improve our processes. I am an active part of the reading radiologist rotation, so I know the impact that AI can deliver. Compared to traditional radiology workstations, I read 40 percent more efficiently on the Nines platform and feel less fatigued at the end of my shift, despite reading more studies.  

Most physicians embrace change. We have always learned to adapt to new approaches to care, consider new therapies, and apply innovations. However, our workload has significantly increased and the administrative burden that is now required of us has chipped away the time we spend helping improve patient outcomes. By focusing on the causes of physician stressors and finding new innovative ways to decrease burnout, practice leaders can help reignite our passion for better patient care. We chose to utilize artificial intelligence and a team of talented engineers to reduce burnout.   


Michael Kelleher, MD, is a radiologist and president of Nines Radiology, a teleradiology practice using AI-based tools. Previously he was vice chair of Radiology at Middlesex Health and COO of Guilford Radiology. He graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and completed his residency and pediatric radiology fellowship at Yale Medical School.