Boris Brkljačić

Q&A with ESR president, Prof. Boris Brkljačić

February 14, 2020
by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor
ECR 2020 takes place March 11 – 15 in its traditional Vienna locale. Another tradition is an interview with the ESR president in advance of the show. This year, we spoke with ESR president, professor Boris Brkljačić from Zagreb, Croatia.

HCB News: How long have you been a member of the European Society of Radiology?
Boris Brkljačić: I have been a member of the ESR ever since it was first founded in 2005, by merging the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) and the European Association of Radiology (EAR).

HCB News: Is ESR the premier radiology organization across Europe or are there any that are as large or larger in certain countries?
BB: The ESR is not only the largest radiological society in Europe, but with more than 120,000 members from 182 countries, it’s also the largest worldwide. While other societies are facing stalling growth rates, our society is still growing year by year, which is one of the big ESR success stories. The annual meeting, the European Congress of Radiology, is amongst the most innovative medical meetings, having exceeded the 30,000 participants threshold last year.

HCB News: What are the main goals you are championing as president?
BB: The most important task of an ESR president is to prepare and advance the European Congress of Radiology. Together with the members of the program planning committee, we did an excellent job for ECR 2020 and created a very comprehensive educational program of the highest quality. We had the bravery to introduce several changes that I hope will advance the quality of the congress even further. I am very grateful to my PPC and subcommittee members, as well as to the ESR Congress office staff for their great work and dedication.

A major focus for me over the last few months was furthering and intensifying our relations with other radiological and related societies. I represented the ESR at many national congresses and international meetings, where, in addition to professional talks, I presented the ESR’s various activities. Also, we consolidated our cooperation with the European Cancer Organisation and took up new relations with the European Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.

Radiation protection is certainly something that deserves our enhanced attention, and to this end, I have strongly supported the activities of ESR’s EuroSafe Imaging campaign. In particular, supporting activities in Eastern Europe as well as the dissemination of ESR’s imaging referral guidelines embedded in a clinical decision support solution, ESR iGuide.

I also fully recognise the importance for the ESR to be acknowledged as a major stakeholder in EU health policies and involved in consultation processes for new legislative initiatives in this field. Getting our voice heard in the interest of our patients is crucial, and this is why I also strongly engaged in advocacy activities in Brussels, including a recent event at the European Parliament co-organised by the ESR and the European Respiratory Society to raise awareness of lung cancer and the need for increased visibility of the disease in EU policies, particularly when it comes to screening programs.

I also participated at ‘The Digital Transformation of Healthcare in Europe: Unlocking the Potential of Digital Solutions for Patients, Healthcare Providers and Health Systems’ event in Brussels in December 2019 to strengthen the position of medical imaging on the European Union health policy agenda, highlighting the contribution of radiology toward accurate diagnosis and treatment.

HCB News: Are there any developments within the field of radiology over the last 12 months that you’re particularly excited about?
BB: Artificial intelligence and its benefits for our field has been a topic that was very much in the ESR’s focus during the last year, and culminated in the publication of an ESR white paper called “What the radiologist should know about artificial intelligence” in last April.

In the same month, we hosted a very successful event in Barcelona together with the European School of Radiology called “Intelligence. Innovation. Imaging — The Perfect Vision of AI”, which saw a record number of 5,800 registrations from 140 countries for live streaming and was highly praised by the ESR members.
Due to the great feedback and huge demand, we have decided to host a similar event in Vienna in May 2020. This will again be in cooperation with ESOR and will focus on the very interesting topic of AI in oncologic imaging. This event will again be available via live stream, so I would like to invite all our colleagues from the USA to join as well.

Later in 2019 the ESR and major North American radiology organizations published a statement on ethics of AI in radiology to guide the development of AI in radiology. The multi-society statement focuses on three major areas: data, algorithms and practice. With all the positive impacts that come with the fast development of AI tools in radiology, it also puts the spotlight on complex ethical and societal questions for patients and the radiology community. It is important for professional societies like the ESR to provide guidance in this rapidly advancing field and to support the development of good practice recommendations, to provide education and training in data science, as well as to support the development of clinically relevant AI use cases and the clinical validation of algorithms. Additionally, standardization and harmonization are crucial topics at the heart of the ESR, and it is considered essential to enter into dialogue with the European institution as well as other stakeholders.

HCB News: What are you most looking forward to for this year’s congress?
BB: The programme offers superb educational sessions in all fields of radiology, suitable for beginners and very advanced professionals, from the basic knowledge to the new horizon sessions. With more than nine thousand abstracts for research presentations submitted, there are too many things to list. Instead, let me focus on some of the prime highlights of ECR 2020.

After last year’s great success, the “In Focus” program is returning and putting children and their healthcare issues in the spotlight. Additionally, for the third year in a row, the Cube will present Interventional Radiology in a novel and very exciting way, never seen before at any other meeting.

As every year, the opening ceremony will be the centerpiece of the congress, in 2020 accompanied by a closing ceremony called “Grand Finale” on Sunday, which will feature a colorful fusion of inspirational talks, musical performances and visual spectacles with plenty of surprises along the way. The highlights of the session will come from three extraordinary young speakers sharing their thought-provoking personal stories.

Last but definitely not least, I am very proud to announce that we will welcome three extraordinary plenary speakers at ECR. Namely Ralph Weissleder, James Thrall Professor of Radiology and professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), Bernd Montag, CEO of Siemens Healthineers and Nenad Sestan who is the professor of Neuroscience, Genetics, Psychiatry and Comparative Medicine at Yale University, and executive director of the Yale Genome Editing Center.

HCB News: As the majority of our readers are in the U.S., can you talk about the value of an ESR membership for an American radiologist?
BB: First of all, I would like to tell your readers that ESR membership is completely free of charge if you reside outside of Europe. Despite being free of charge, the membership still comes with an array of benefits and discounts for ESR services. Being a member guarantees you the lowest fee available for the European Congress of Radiology, while giving you access to all ESR educational offers and journals.

For instance, members also receive free access to European Radiology, Europe’s flagship radiology journal with an impact factor of 3.962. In terms of educational offers, ESR members can access EURORAD, the largest peer-reviewed online teaching database of radiology, free of charge and also get a substantial discount on the annual subscription of Education on Demand, the ESR’s e-learning platform, which features options to earn CME credits.

Additionally, on our latest platform, ESR Connect, which offers livestreaming of ESR events and an extensive and exclusive on-demand library, our members from the USA will also be able to secure the full membership discount.

HCB News: Can you give a prediction as to how radiology will evolve in the next decade?
BB: Artificial intelligence will hopefully be closer incorporated into the daily radiological practice. Not only in the area of image interpretation, but also in the general workflow, clinical decision support and radiation protection.

I hope that it will support radiologists efficiently in coping with work overload and will make the whole healthcare system more rational and cost-effective. Radiologists need to adapt to changes and need to change their training, by including AI, bioinformatics, data management and molecular biology. We need to evolve into the role of a diagnostician who is able to integrate multiple sources of data with the help of artificial intelligence.

Since the role of the medical internist is changing through subspecialisation, radiology may take the role of integrated diagnostics, and we, therefore, need to carefully tailor education to the needs of general practice versus subspecialty radiology.

We will probably witness the development of interventional radiology into a more defined specialty with a curriculum differing from diagnostic radiology.

We need to closely liaise with pathology and probably develop combined training programs over time. Finally, value-based medicine will have repercussions on the way radiology is practiced. Innovations in quantitative imaging and AI will have to be concentrated around value in imaging.