We are delighted to welcome the renowned radiologist Professor Eliot Siegel to the BIR Annual Congress this year to deliver the keynote lecture on the opening day. Read on to gain an insight into his personal and professional life and what keeps him awake at night.
1. Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself.
a. I enjoy family, sports, tennis, basketball, science fiction and cosmology, and figuring out new ways to change the way that we practise diagnostic imaging and medicine.
b. I am Professor and Vice Chair of Research Information Systems for the University of Maryland Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine as well as Chief of Imaging for the VA Maryland Healthcare System. I am also an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science and Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Maryland.
c. I work with a variety of commercial companies and government agencies on new ideas and applications of technology in medicine.
2. How did you get to where you are today?
By having the Forrest Gump–like serendipitous good fortune to be in the right time at the right place to take advantage of extraordinarily interesting, fun and challenging opportunities - such as designing a new radiology department in a new hospital when I was fresh out of fellowship and making it the world’s first filmless radiology department, working with the IBM "Jeopardy!" team to help them apply their technology to medicine, and many others. The best part of my good fortune has been the freedom to dedicate my career to anticipating the next curve in the road for radiology and medicine, with an eye on planning for technological innovation.
3. You do what you do because ...
My background as an undergraduate was in the physiology and psychology of human vision, including the study of computer vision and optical illusions. I was drawn to these fields, I think, because of the limitations of my own visual memory (compared to numbers, concepts, or facts). Diagnostic radiology turned out to be a perfect choice in medical school, especially because it seemed to be the specialty with the greatest potential to be radically changed by advances in technology and the one that was most involved with the art and science of human visual perception.
4. What do you feel has been your greatest achievement during your career?
a. I consider my greatest “achievement”, to be the many hundreds of fellows, residents, medical students, undergraduates and high school students I have had the privilege to mentor. I am incredibly proud of their achievements and success and of the thousands that they in turn have mentored in radiology, computer science, biomedical engineering and many other fields.
b. Other than that, I think my greatest accomplishment was being in a position in which to lead the paradigm shift from film-based to digital radiology in the United States. This included being the first hospital to “go filmless” with an integrated electronic medical record and the first to collect before and after data to investigate the clinical and economic impact of a digital system. The transition to digital has opened up the doors (or Pandora’s Box) to teleradiology, increasingly large and complex data in MRI, CT and nuclear medicine as well as computed aided detection and diagnosis.
5. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to deal with in your career?
a. From a career perspective my most difficult challenge has been trying to balance my research, administrative, clinical practice, and teaching responsibilities with my family and other life goals. I’ve had an “inverted” career where I became department chief immediately out of my fellowship and have always had to balance the administrative aspects of my career with my wide variety of other interests. The bureaucracy in the part of my job working for the Federal Government (Department of Veterans Affairs) has been a major test of patience and persistence.
b. My most difficult challenge with radiology in general has been (perhaps ironically) our image. We’ve accomplished so much in recent years, but have made little progress in the perception of our specialty by either our clinical colleagues or, more important, our patients. I wish our efforts to get the word out about how diagnostic imaging has become absolutely indispensible and completely changed the practice of medicine and surgery for all patients could match the acute surge in public awareness about risks associated with radiation. This should, of course, be addressed at both the level of our major radiology societies and at the individual level. The medical school student’s stereotype of the radiologist has “evolved” from that of the goggle-eyed hermit sitting in the darkened basement to the isolated, non-communicative recluse reviewing images in a plush office at home or work. We could do so much more to reach out to our clinical colleagues and patients to communicate our fascination with our specialty and genuine concern and interest in our patients.
6. How would you like to see the sector change in the next five years?
a. I would like to see diagnostic imaging embrace innovation and collaboration. Medicine and surgery are changing incredibly rapidly with the routine application of genomics, decision support and routine use of computers and robotics. Medical images and reports need to become more “machine intelligible” so that our specialty doesn’t get lost in the era of quantitative and “big” data and advanced machine intelligence in medicine. We need to become more efficient and more quantitative in our assessment of quality and outcomes.
7. What can Europe learn from radiologists in the States?
I think that we Americans can learn more from Europe than the other way around. Some areas of success in the US include efficiencies and economies of scale associated with large teleradiology practices with efficient use of subspecialists, a strong emphasis on the creation of appropriateness criteria for diagnostic imaging, strong interest in advanced informatics and machine learning applications, and an emerging emphasis on promotion of wellness and screening.
8. If you could go back 10 years and meet your former self what would you tell them?
Go to Vegas and put a large wager down that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for President of the United States in 2016.
9. What makes you smile?
a. A game when my tennis serve is “on”
b. Seeing a former student accomplish something really special
c. A weekend relaxing at the beach
d. Figuring out a new way to solve an old problem
e. Getting a new “toy” at work or home.
10. What keeps you awake at night?
a. My border collie puppy who has boundless energy
c. The current state of US politics
d. Ideas for new “inventions” or new ways of getting things done.
Want to hear more from Professor Eliot Siegel? Attend the BIR Annual Congress on 3-4 November in London for his keynote lecture on "Peering more deeply into a new era of personalised medicine”.