The effects of changes in utilization and technological advancements of cross-sectional imaging on radiologist workload

Acad Radiol. 2015 Sep;22(9):1191-8. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2015.05.007. Epub 2015 Jul 22.


Rationale and objectives: To examine the effect of changes in utilization and advances in cross-sectional imaging on radiologists' workload.

Materials and methods: All computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations performed at a single institution between 1999 and 2010 were identified and associated with the total number of images for each examination. Annual trends in institutional numbers of interpreted examinations and images were translated to changes in daily workload for the individual radiologist by normalizing to the number of dedicated daily CT and MRI work assignments, assuming a 255-day/8-hour work day schedule. Temporal changes in institutional and individual workload were assessed by Sen's slope analysis (Q = median slope) and Mann-Kendall test (Z = Z statistic).

Results: From 1999 to 2010, a total of 1,517,149 cross-sectional imaging studies (CT = 994,471; MRI = 522,678) comprising 539,210,581 images (CT = 339,830,947; MRI = 199,379,634) were evaluated at our institution. Total annual cross-sectional studies steadily increased from 84,409 in 1999 to 147,336 in 2010, representing a twofold increase in workload (Q = 6465/year, Z = 4.2, P < .0001). Concomitantly, the number of annual departmental cross-sectional images interpreted increased from 9,294,140 in 1990 to 94,271,551 in 2010, representing a 10-fold increase (Q = 8707876/year, Z = 4.5, P < .0001). Adjusting for staffing changes, the number of images requiring interpretation per minute of every workday per staff radiologist increased from 2.9 in 1999 to 16.1 in 2010 (Q = 1.7/year, Z = 4.3, P < .0001).

Conclusions: Imaging volumes have grown at a disproportionate rate to imaging utilization increases at our institution. The average radiologist interpreting CT or MRI examinations must now interpret one image every 3-4 seconds in an 8-hour workday to meet workload demands.

Keywords: Cross-sectional imaging; fatigue; imaging volumes; utilization; workload.

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy, Cross-Sectional / statistics & numerical data
  • Anatomy, Cross-Sectional / trends
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends
  • Minnesota
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling / statistics & numerical data
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling / trends
  • Radiologists*
  • Radiology Department, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Radiology Department, Hospital / trends
  • Radiology Information Systems / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / trends
  • Workload*