Imagining the possibilities

I heard Virgil Wong speak at the NYeHealth Digital Health conference last Fall. Virgil is an artist who trained at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. Studying abroad in Rome he became fascinated by human anatomy leading to a yearlong sojourn in the anatomy lab. Since then he has combined his artistic vision with information technology in various iterations leading to a truly innovative health IT concept called the Medical Avatar (www.medicalavatar.com).

Check out Virgil’s Ted talk here

The notion that patients' care and outcomes can be impacted by how they view their data seemed like an obvious Imaging 3.0 fit. I recently met with Virgil to explore this further. We talked about the use of a "time travel" concept that shows patients what they will look like if certain conditions go untreated or behaviors unmodified. Virgil currently does research at Columbia University on the impact that such visualization techniques can have on engagement, disease prevention and chronic disease management in order to optimize patient physician communication, reduce misdiagnoses, and decrease hospital readmission rates.

The symptom tracker feature of the medical avatar (http://medicalavatar.com/features/visual-symptom-tracking/) provides patients and their healthcare providers with a novel way to describe, record and track symptoms. Think about how we might benefit from the ability to glean more accurate information from our patients about why they are seeking care.

My conversation with Virgil reminded me once again of how fortunate we are as radiologists to spend our days working with such powerful images and technology. Which of us has not looked at a set of images and felt incredible professional satisfaction from being able to deliver just the information that can turn the corner in making a diagnosis?

Essential to the Imaging 3.0 philosophy is the imperative to communicate the value of imaging to our colleagues and most importantly to our patients. When we start with exquisite renderings of anatomy and hypersensitive recognition of physiology, how is it that the product we deliver to the world is often just words on a page? As we struggle to think about how to tell the story of what we can contribute, are we failing to leverage the power of the images that we interpret?

Much of my time as the ACR's Economics Commission Chair is occupied with discussions of arcane payment formulae and mitigating drastic cuts to reimbursement. The fuel that keeps me going is my persistent belief that what we get to do as radiologists is cooler (and more valuable) than any other field of medicine and that we owe it to our patients to keep our specialty at the forefront. Am I biased? A little, but try imagining healthcare without CT or MRI. The challenge I issue to us all is to find creative ways to share the beauty and power of what we create to help our patients. The work of visionaries like Virgil Wong can help and inspire us.