August 15, 2022

The Power of Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Fatima Elahi, DO, MHA

Fatima Elahi, DO, MHAFrom imaging detailed fetal anatomy to complex post-operative patients, radiologists hold a unique position as advocates of multiple specialties in the medical field. In fact, radiologists offer a different perspective of an ailment, and ultimately, the needs of the patient. Thus, radiology representation at interdisciplinary conferences is crucial in order to advocate effectively for our diverse patient population.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates conference in June as an elected resident leader within the ACR. This is where I saw firsthand the importance of radiology collaboration with other specialties.

Prior to attending the conference, my scope of knowledge as it related to the AMA was limited, and I thought a radiologist’s participation was confined to conferences centered around diagnostic imaging. The AMA conference, however, compelled me to take a necessary step back to consider a radiologist’s role as a member of an interdisciplinary team working together to achieve patient-centered care.

Several weeks prior to the AMA conference, I learned that there is extensive preparation required, including research of hundreds of proposed resolutions, attendance in virtual committee meetings, and participation in discussions with radiology society members of the Radiology Section Council (RSC), under the leadership of Todd Hertzberg, MD, FACR. Furthermore, these discussions often transcended radiology, allowing us to learn from other medical specialties. By prioritizing our patients as a common thread in all conversations, ultimately voting on proposed resolutions became a little easier.

As I reflect on how radiologists became a part of the largest association of physicians, I learned that my ability to attend the AMA with members of the RSC is largely credited to the founder of the RSC, Arl Van Moore Jr., MD, FACR. Dr. Moore recognized the power of interdisciplinary collaboration at a time when the medical association was largely a platform for the specialty of medicine. Instead of dismissing this opportunity to collaborate, he brought to light that radiologists are a critical thread in all fabrics of patient care.

My takeaways from the conference and why you should be involved in interdisciplinary discussions pertaining to patient advocacy can be summarized as follows:

  1. The benefits of effective listening in conversations with non-radiologist physicians are immeasurable.
    It is known that radiologists are crucial to ensuring proper imaging care for patients. However, the profound realization for me was noting the weight of our radiology voice in speaking up on issues that are “outside” of imaging in order to amplify the voices of other physician providers. A specific example of this experience was when I sat in on a discussion led by a member of the American Psychiatric Association who shared the new three-digit suicide and crisis hotline number #988 to improve access to mental health care. At that moment, I recognized that my presence in this moment, and subsequently as an educator of my colleagues, of this new initiative would help save patient lives — all without picking up a dictaphone to dictate a case. In turn, I paid attention as our non-radiologist counterparts, who infrequently require imaging, spoke to the importance of improving imaging access. It is this thoughtful listening that can allow us to recognize ways we can serve our patients outside the classic training of our specialties.

  2. The care that physicians have for their patients resonated throughout conference discussions.
    As I sat in the main House of Delegates during the conference, I marveled at how much the hundreds of physicians in attendance truly care about their patients. Each physician who got up to the mic to provide testimony in favor or to oppose a resolution spoke with passion. Collectively, they shared stories that highlighted the need to ensure affordable drugs for patients such as insulin as we simultaneously deal with a national intravenous contrast shortage. Noting the vulnerability of physicians as they called for support during a discussion that was not televised, or shared in any way with patients, was inspiring.

  3. Medical students and residents are leaders in creating a collective voice across specialties.
    Throughout the week, physician leaders explored resolutions that directly related to medical students and residents. Quite often, these resolutions were developed by students and trainees from a broad range of backgrounds demonstrating that our interdisciplinary power is not limited to the role of attending physicians. In fact, residents hold a special position at such conferences, bringing a unique perspective and indefatigable drive to the forum. As a resident member of the review team for medical education, I witnessed the wide support across specialties for issues pertaining to students and trainees. Some examples of these issues include on-site and subsidized childcare, standards for cultural humility training and support for standardized interpreter training. Through participation in these discussions early-on in training, we, as residents, have an opportunity to advocate for substantial change in favor of our patients and profession. When the aims of a particular resolution were not as clear, however, there was ample time for discussion amongst opposing viewpoints in an always respectful manner.

  4. We, as physicians, can come together to creatively solve problems.
    One of the most profound experiences during this conference was witnessing the strength of working together to creatively address complex patient and provider issues. For example, while discussing the Medicare Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) Program, radiologists engaged in discussions with ordering physicians to recognize the importance of reducing inappropriate imaging of patients while simultaneously acknowledging the challenges that contribute to administrative burdens and practice expenses and the potential need for more flexibility to ordering advanced diagnostic imaging. Through this shared understanding, leaders of the RSC and other subspecialty section councils were able to come together to propose a modified resolution amenable to all stakeholders.

Attending conferences is not limited by membership in an organization or your work for a specific field. Interdisciplinary conferences offer invaluable discussions on patient care and offer opportunities to advocate for safe and appropriate patient care.

Each attendee is given the opportunity to become involved as an advocate and leader in committees ranging from public health and legislation to finance and technology. Radiology residents are encouraged to seek opportunities that will allow them to explore their roles in other fields, which also includes attending the next AMA House of Delegates Meeting this November in Hawaii, where much of what was discussed in June will be revisited and where new ideas will be introduced. Residents are encouraged to consider attending to experience the power of interdisciplinary collaboration.

On a virtual level, residents should consider joining the ACR Radiology Advocacy Network as your residency program’s advocacy representative. Reach out to your program coordinator to learn how you can be a part of these discussions and serve as a critical member of our patients’ care team year-round!