Reimagining and Reinventing Postpandemic Radiology

This post was originally featured in ARRS InPractice.

Some days, it’s hard to recall what prepandemic life was like. Things have forever changed in light of this historic global event, and it’s vital to reflect and process these last three years. We’ve endured some of the most trying times of our careers, but we also have a bright future as a medical community ahead. You’re wondering what that might look like and how we can collectively “skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been,” as Wayne Gretzky famously said.

COVID-19 precipitated a fundamental change in clinical service delivery, teaching, research, staff retention, employee wellness initiatives, and communications strategies. We amended workplace safety standards and practices, stood up and resourced remote teams, recruited trainees virtually, and transformed in-person grand rounds programs into digital ones. These are just some of the many efforts that we as a specialty undertook to protect our people, uphold our missions, and keep our teams employed. And while not all changes were novel ones, the pandemic catalyzed their implementation. We now have tremendous momentum to continue innovating, especially as we begin to emerge from crisis mode together.

Accelerating Change

Here at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, we simply couldn’t have managed this public health crisis without our highly effective, efficient, and resourceful operational surveillance systems and teams. Some of these teams were in place before the pandemic started; they rapidly responded to the initial phases of COVID-19, then swiftly transitioned into a multidisciplinary incident command structure to assess, rethink, reinvent, iterate, and communicate our health care systems and strategies on a daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute basis. This collaborative structure operated in real time and kept our trains running, on schedule and on the tracks, far more often than not. Light started to appear at the end of the tunnel, and then, the alphabet of variants arrived. It soon became clear that we would never return to prepandemic normalcy. A fundamental shift had taken place in the way we delivered our services, and some of this change represented the necessary digital transformation many had envisioned long before COVID-19 struck.

So, what are our next steps? How can we effectively shift from a reactionary mode to one that is deliberate and purposeful? What structure will best support the necessary regrowth phase that will support our medical practices and organizations? Now is our time to be accelerators rather than incubators, to reinvent and rebrand our skills and clinical contributions, and to be thoughtful and strategic in the process. This is where the most strategic, imaginative, and operationally agile teams will lead the way and define our recovery. Those who embrace change and progress will be the best positioned to thrive. Lead the change. Be the change.

Building COVID Recovery Hubs

Let’s be the disruptive thinkers our field will be proud of. Define, then communicate your future radiology vision. Do this in an inclusive manner that involves all role groups. For such plans to be adopted and successful, leaders will need to continue to create forums for staff to weigh in, ask the right questions of their teams, listen to feedback, barriers, needs, and ideas, and provide other ways to share input, such as through short pulse surveys in a departmental newsletter or real-time polls during meetings. Ensure everyone’s voice is heard and incorporate major common themes into your plans.

We suggest constructing and resourcing a formal COVID recovery hub, which can house your postpandemic mission, vision, and recovery playbook. Appoint and support a multidisciplinary team to lead and own these pioneering transformation efforts. Who have you appointed to lead your radiology recovery, reinvention, and reengineering transformation? What does your “r4” portfolio look like? By answering these questions, you will help your practice continue to keep its staff and patients safe, deliver exceptional care, manage ongoing people and supply chain shortages, support staff morale and wellness, nurture remote teams, and effectively communicate and engage with a multigenerational workforce.

Reimagining Administrative Functions

As part of your COVID recovery hub, consider the roles, responsibilities, and constituents of your leadership team. Are you best positioned for your recovery? Now might be a great time to reimagine these elements and challenge the traditional hierarchy, as we work to flatten authority gradients, build diverse, inclusive, and multigenerational teams, and ensure that form follows function. Additionally, these roles have likely transformed out of necessity during the pandemic and might need to evolve to meet your practice’s future needs.  

Let’s be a little provocative: how can we identify the best person to be our “knowing exactly where the puck will be in 2030” portfolio leader? Actually, this is not a task for one person—and this is precisely why building and sustaining high-performing diverse and inclusive teams will become paramount and essential. Proudly establish your recovery hub, appoint a vice chair of recovery and reinvention to lead this effort, then establish and resource new portfolios to signal just how serious you are about recovery, regrowth, and reinvention. For example, have you considered the future of your remote teams? Based on national employee preferences, it’s clear that some level of remote work is here to stay. Perhaps, as part of a practice’s new digital innovation and transformation lab, it could create a remote workplace and team-building portfolio. Will your organization continue producing short video messages, digital newsletters, social media content, and academic webinars? What will your postpandemic communications strategy look like? Perhaps it’s a question for a newly formed digital communications and connections team. While these structures might not be novel in a large, digital-first corporate setting,they would be a progressive leap forward for many of our major academic medical practices.

Additionally, we all know that health care delivery has progressed to incorporate population health, cost reduction improvement efforts, care coordination and integration, and customer experience, among other important factors. Simply put, our aim is to deliver the highest-quality, safest possible care and experience at the most sustainable costs. This boils down to value, and who better to drive it than an effective chief value officer?We’ve certainly been talking about this value proposition for quite some time already. On a different but equally important note, we must think about how we will continue to support the health and wellness of our staff postpandemic, especially during our nation’s mental health crisis. Is there an influential and compassionate leader on your team who could become your chief wellness leader and drive these vital efforts to aid your entire team?

The structure of a leadership team should primarily relate to its intended function and purpose. Once you have reconfirmed your foundational core purpose, reimagined your vision and mission, and defined your annual goals, then form the team (and define their precise roles) that will help you reach your ideal future state. Energize your teams by including them in strategic brainstorming and planning sessions, imagining an exciting and successful future together.Designing a newoperational landscape is not a task for one person, which is why building and sustaining high-performing, diverse, and inclusive teams will be paramount.

The interesting exercise that we are all engaged in now is to define that future state. Has anybody considered a leader of a recovery and reinvention portfolio? Your entire team wants to contribute! Be inclusive and build diverse teams.

Mapping New Pathways

This is an era of posttraumatic regrowth. Reimagining your pathway should be an inclusive, aspirational, and even inspirational process. Be thoughtful and strategic when redefining your path forward toward the new normal you and your team aspire to achieve. Reengage and revitalize your most precious resource, your workforce. Recommit to safe practices, wellness initiatives, and high-performing team building. Reconnect your teams, and work to sustain these connections. Reimagine and rethink your strategic plan and goals, and start your new journey today. Those who will flourish and thrive will do this effectively, thoughtfully, and strategically; consider the long-term goals, map out your route, and take action. As you shift from managing operations to imagining the future, try to shift your focus from keeping the trains running to considering where new rails could be built. Periodically, it’s important to pause and ponder—to consider not only how trains can be better engineered, but also to contemplate whether train travel will be a safe and efficient customer choice in the future. That’s strategic thinking.

Let’s try to simplify. You’re done with reacting, reflecting, and responding. You’re starting to see some light at the end of this tunnel. You’re hoping that omicron is the last symbol of this pandemic alphabet. Now, more than ever before, is the time to look forward, plan your recovery strategy, and focus on building and sustaining innovation. The practices that are most likely to thrive are already thinking outside the traditional administrative oversight box. And they are moving ahead right now.

And, finally, find ways to share your experiences of this journey. We’re all traveling new paths and learning as we go. We must learn from each other’s successes and missteps, and there will be plenty of both. As we build our departmental COVID recovery hubs, we also need to design and build collaborative teams to communicate and interact with institutional, regional, and national COVID recovery hubs, to the extent they exist. These new systems must be capable of redefining and reimagining the future, so that we can all travel along the path of progress together.

It’s now time to be intentionally inclusive, as we commence this new journey.

About the Authors
Jonathan Kruskal

Melvin E. Clouse Professor of Radiology, Harvard Medical School
Chair, Department of Radiology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

James V. Rawson

Senior Lecturer on Radiology
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

The opinions expressed on RadTeams are those of the author(s); they do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or position of the editors, reviewers, or publisher.