The multimodality technologist

August 04, 2021
By Les Jebson

Growing dialogue is underway throughout the imaging arena in regard to the viability, fiscal sustainability and safety of utilizing technologists in multiple modalities.

Specifically, can and should healthcare organizations assign more than one imaging modality to technologists within a given work shift? Or even move to different locations and staff different modalities on varied work assignments?

Interestingly enough, discussion and contemplation surrounding the topic of multimodality technologists isn’t new. Cited articles on Pubmed exist from the late 1980s asking this very question. At that time, the discussion surrounded critical staffing shortages across the country from conventional X-ray to MR imaging, prompting the argument for development of multimodal technologists.

A recent cursory review of the digital media social forum Reddit, shows an imaging technology forum with over 50,000 imaging professionals from around the world. Strong and varied opinions are shared in regard to the safety, training and market demand for imaging technologists with demonstrated competencies. Of particular note are comments from imaging technologists from the European Union.

In many of the European Union nations, it is actually standard practice to hire technologists for multiple modalities. In fact, the educational curriculums are designed to establish core competencies in digital X-ray, CT, MR, ultrasound and radiotherapy. Some countries have specific rules regarding technologists not being able to staff more than two modalities in a given work period, unless it is emergent.

Rather than make a bold declaration for or against the multimodality technologist, a brief examination of current and future regional and national healthcare market trends may shed objective light on this provocative topic.

There are workforce considerations in regard to both the availability of competent technologists and patient demand trends. Considering the data surrounding an aging demographic nationally, it stands to reason that utilization and demand should continue to increase. This, arguably, will only be compounded through continued growth and migration of clinical services into suburban America through outpatient care delivery.

Industry analysts anticipate 6-9% annual growth in demand for new MR and CT scanners across North America through the year 2027, according to Fortune Business Insights. Technological advancements in the very machines themselves warrants continuing education and competency assessment. Ergo, one may contend that as the imaging modalities become more sophisticated, the level of skill and competency required may also increase.

Thus, lack of repetition and frequency may compound access to competent technologies, create patient throughput inefficiencies or worse, risk safety events. An informal examination of career opportunities through companies such as Indeed show that at any given time there are in excess of 100 multimodality career postings nationally. More frequently than not, we see multimodality positions being recruited more as “pairings”, such as MR-CT combination or vascular/sonography positions.

Therefore, it is evident there are a multitude of factors that go into whether or not a healthcare organization decides to pursue recruitment and utilization of multimodality technologists. Professionally and personally, I believe there are a handful of recommendations that should be weighed and incorporated at a local level regarding this topic, and these include:

• If the labor market warrants a need for cross-staffing, does the organization/employer possess a fair and competitive compensation system that recognizes both experience and competency?
• Is there an opportunity to collaborate with local educational institutions in helping create and provide meaningful educational opportunities for technologists interested in becoming competent in multiple modalities?
• Can and should the organization/employer provide internal training and a financial stair incentive system to reward existing technologists for becoming multimodal?
• What checks and balances can be incorporated from a competency and safety perspective to ensure consistently high-quality patient care?

Les Jebson
In conclusion, I have made no secret of my bias toward the imaging field. From both a professional and patient perspective, imaging has literally saved my life and countless others. It is arguably, the most important foundation to care delivery, and touches every specialty and discipline within our profession. An objective assessment balancing human resources, education and financial constraints should be vetted regarding the establishment of multimodality technologists in your organization.

About the author: Les Jebson is the executive director for clinical initiatives and strategy for Texas A&M Health.