[Telecommunications, health and radiology: potential synergies for the new millennium]

R Lagalla
La Radiologia Medica 2001, 102 (1): 14-9
Healthcare telematics, or telemedicine, is a new methodology that applies the potentialities of telecommunications technologies to the needs of medicine, thereby greatly contributing to improving the management of clinical data and medical information for the benefit of the individual patient and the community at large. The fields of application of Telemedicine are becoming increasingly vast, and this gives rise to technical problems (interconnections) as well as professional, ethical, medico-legal and legal problems. The dissemination of Telemedicine will require changes to be made to the organisation and delivery of the medical/administrative services connected to the management of patient data, the remote provision of care, and the impact of Telemedicine itself (e.g. need to standardise the nomenclature for telemedicine services). In addition, it will also call for a careful analysis of costs and benefits for both healthcare providers and patients. One of the most interesting experiences in terms of impact is Teleradiology. This is neither a new discipline nor a (sub)specialty: the practice of Teleradiology must comply with the rules regulating any radiological medical act, the primary aim of which is to contribute to establishing - rapidly and accurately - a diagnosis that will affect treatment strategies. It may be anticipated that in some situations Teleradiology will significantly change the working practices of Radiology Specialists and Radiology Technicians. Because it is better to anticipate problems rather than wait for them to arise, our Scientific Society, which is always sensitive to emerging issues, intends to propose the following recommendations/guidelines for the use of Teleradiology in the common interest of the community and healthcare workers. The invitation to take part in the initiative proposed by the Italian Society of Medical Radiology (SIRM), the Italian Association of Nuclear Medicine (AIMN) and the Italian Association of Neuroradiology (AINR) was received with great satisfaction and is proof that we are working towards common goals. As on other occasions, this was reflected in the excellent collaboration between the National Radiologists' Union (SNR), the Italian Association of Medical Physics (AIFM) and the National Federation of Radiology Technicians (F.N.C.TSRM) in drafting the document. The document aims to highlight the potentialities and limitations in the use of Teleradiology and to provide a set of recommendations/guidelines, which are not, however, to be intended as strict, absolute rules. Because this field is continually evolving both in structural and regulatory terms, and because it is very difficult to establish universal criteria to rigidly define behavioural models for implementing and managing Teleradiology-related activities (which in any case fall into the category of radiological medical acts), the recommendations/guidelines proposed necessarily have an informative rather than prescriptive nature. The document starts by defining the meaning of the following currently used terms: Teleconsultation; Telediagnosis; Teledidactics. It then goes on to analyse the following aspects of Teleradiology: Technological requirements; Qualifications and training of Medical Personnel; Qualifications, training and competences of Radiology Technicians. Based on the regulations in force in Italy, these recommendations are structured in terms of rationale and possible professional issues arising from the use of Teleradiology. A section is devoted to data security and confidentiality, including legal implications, an area which is currently evolving and being studied in Italy and abroad. Finally, the professional liabilities of all the healthcare providers involved in Teleradiology (imprudence, incompetence, negligence) are outlined, as well as the responsibilities related to the necessary maintenance of equipment. The aim of the document is to propose recommendations/guidelines for the correct use and validation of Teleradiology. The Scientific Societies SIRM-AIMN-AINR and the Academic Institutions, together with the SNR, AIFM and the F.N.C.TSRM, the Regional Bodies and the Italian National Health Trusts are required to make a positive and constructive commitment to this new field, which has become the object of considerable attention and interests. While confirming that, if used correctly, this methodology will no doubt increase the overall efficiency of Diagnostic Imaging - in the primary interest of the patient's right to health - it is felt that attention should also be paid to the working practices of the Radiology Specialists and Radiology Technicians and to the training of both. It is necessary to standardise training and practice, and to make an integrated and coherent use of resources with respect to the healthcare goals we wish to attain. Many have described the undisputed advantages of Teleradiology, but there have been relatively few reports on the related risks and recommendations for its use. It is certain that an improper use of the method (forced& interpretation of the bill on complementary diagnostic activities, operational misunderstandings between Radiology Specialists and Radiology Technicians, rarefaction of the relationship between Radiologist and Patient, obligation to use teleconsultation in all situations) will lead to considerable disadvantages for all those working in the field of Radiology, specialists and radiology technicians alike. Therefore, by adopting this document, which is by no means against Teleradiology but for a rational use of the method and full awareness of what it actually implies, the Scientific Society intends on the one hand to participate actively and concretely in the process of regulating all those aspects of Teleradiology for which it is competent - rather than waiting for regulations to be imposed from above - and, on the other, to provide, through its highly qualified Study Group (Specialists in Radiology, Nuclear Medicine, Legal Medicine, Medical Physics, and Radiology Technicians), Radiologists, Specialists in Nuclear Medicine, Neuroradiologists and Radiology Technicians with practical recommendations for use/guidelines for the correct and rational performance of their (tele)radiological acts. These indications and recommendations are also being submitted to the Italian Government. Teleradiology has attracted so much attention that, even as a result of pressure from Industry, an international consensus conference is needed to regulate the rational and informed use of this new methodology.

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