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Should the Radiology Extender Be Commonplace in Hospitals?

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology has found that radiology extenders (RE) can expedite image reading processes, stabilize workloads, and sustain reimbursement rates for radiologists.

The repetitive and demanding nature of reviewing over a thousand x-ray images a week can be monotonous for radiologists, and leave them feeling unaccomplished and inefficient in their other responsibilities. To relieve some of the burden of reviewing so many images, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania trained a radiologic technologist to be integrated with a radiology extender (RE).

In their study, the researchers instructed the RE to give preliminary reads of musculoskeletal plain films to see if this responsibility was able to improve the radiologists’ workflow rate. Although the RE’s job is limited by board requirements, they underwent training similar to that of a radiology resident, which consisted of one-on-one revisions of their cases, an online course, and reading standard radiology texts.

Overall, REs were able to pre-read 99.3 ± 3 (average ± standard error) cases during an 8-hour shift. This work is equivalent to 85 minutes a radiologist could use to peruse other types of cases that were more aligned with their interests.

“We believe that the RE role is an innovation that will result in a reorganization of work responsibility in the field of radiology,” write the researchers. “Although our experience was limited to an academic institution, we see no reason to confine RE positions to teaching hospitals, because academic and private practices are under increasing pressures to cut costs and increase efficiency.”

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