The Radiology Department Reality Show
More drama than you think
Ever wonder if people would watch a movie based on your life? Every once in a while I give this a little bit of thought. Does my life have enough day-to-day drama/comedy/human interest to warrant the almost-sure attention of Gerard Butler to the part? (NOTE: I am not saying that Gerard Butler is the only actor who could accurately portray me on screen. Hugh Jackman has also expressed interest in the role.)
The sad truth, though, is that most of my life probably isn’t even interesting enough for a low-budget reality TV show, much less a feature film. But you know what would make an awesome reality show? Any good-sized radiology department in any hospital in the United States. And you know where most of the drama would come from? Mistakes.
I mean, think about it. Of course every radiology department has the usual: personality conflicts, office romances, and so on. Those themes are old hat. What would be most interesting to a public unaware of all the moving parts of the radiology workflow would be how often mistakes are made and how easy it is to make them.
Hey, we work in this environment, so we’ve become used to it. But there’s a lot of drama when critical results are held up because a technician failed to properly complete a study. There would be a macabre entertainment value in watching the wrong study get performed on a patient, or the audience being clued in to the fact that a result was being interpreted incorrectly. This is the kind of perverse tension on which reality shows thrive. Done properly, the show would be a hit.
But there’s one category of error that would cause people to yell at the television with frustration: documentation mistakes. Translation errors not caught by physicians as they used speech recognition systems would elicit an unbelieving cry every time. How often do all the pieces of the complex radiology workflow work perfectly only to be foiled by a reporting error at the end of the process?
You see, in general people understand complexity – they get that in any complex system, mistakes are made, things that should be obvious are often overlooked, and bad things happen. Documentation mistakes, though, fall into a category all their own. When a physician dictates one thing and signs something else, that doesn’t seem complex. It seems careless.
For all that complex systems seem to inevitably produce errors, the easiest errors to eliminate should be those involving documentation. Too often, though, the poor quality of radiology reports is ignored. And the cost for this inattention can be high.
I’ve never seen a reality show based on a radiology department, and it’s unlikely I ever will. But I do wonder what extra attention would do to the number of documentation mistakes made by radiologists every day. Would the number of errors be cut by 50%? 60%? More? How much money – and how many lives – would be saved if that happened?
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