Improving rural access to radiology services

A mix of business savvy and cultural competency can overcome workforce shortages, declining populations and hospital closures in rural areas to improve access to radiology services, according to speakers at the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago. 


By most accounts, radiology practice in rural areas is bleak due to the nationwide physician shortage and a spate of hospital closures, according to RSNA’s Daily Bulletin.

In a summary of a Sunday presentation on the radiology workforce shortage, Danny Hughes, economist and professor at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, said that between 2013 and 2023, more than 130 rural hospitals closed.

Hughes also noted that recruitment and retention of radiologists in remote areas with potentially lower pay also presents challenges to the success of radiology practices.

Dr. Richard Duszak, professor and chair of the Department of Radiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, said during the session that in about one year, the average wait times at UMMC improved and they are now zero to two days for most radiology services. Interventional radiology procedures by month rose from 380 in July 2022 to 676 in August 2023, he added.

By connecting patients to reliable transportation and speaking directly with patients to make sure they understand the purpose of appointments and test results, the medical center has also been able to reduce the number of no-shows. 

Private equity support – cash and operations support – can be critical to rural specialties, especially during mass casualty events, said Dr. Catherine Joyce Everett, a private practice radiologist in North Carolina. 

When tornadoes hit Kentucky in December 2021, local hospitals were overwhelmed with injuries, she said. She said RP Matrix, Radiology Partners’ teleradiology practice, which operates in all 50 states, jumped in. The company leverages artificial intelligence-enhanced remote diagnostics, routine subspecialty, emergent and after-hours imaging support, according to its website.

While every available radiologist in the region was called in, the tornado disaster created a radiology workload too large to keep up with. 

“Over two days, [RP Matrix Kentucky] read over 650 trauma cases, which is pretty amazing,” said Everett.

“Using its high-demand escalation process, the Matrix team covered three times its normal volumes for Kentucky,” the company said in its report on the disaster that killed at least 80 Kentuckians and injured 500.


A shortage of physicians across the United States is most keenly felt in specialty care, but virtual specialty care is helping to overcome patient access challenges.

Julian Flannery, founder and CEO of Summus Global, a telehealth technology and services company that focuses on specialty care, says that telemedicine must play a central role in solving the specialist shortage.

“Using a model that provides real value to specialists and allows them to scale their expertise will win the day,” he told Healthcare IT News in July.

“For patients, models that can attract high-quality specialists and deep and diverse provider networks also will be hugely valuable.” 


“Looking at the data, radiologists in rural areas have so much more variety in their workload and that is going to be very attractive to a lot of folks,” Hughes said at the RSNA annual meeting.

“We are striving to create a workforce that is representative of the people we take care of, but it’s going to take a multi-decade journey to get there,” Duszak added.

Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.


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