NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who's Reading Your X-Ray?

November 21, 2003

Due to a shortage of radiologists, Massachusetts General Hospital is beaming images electronically for some scans to India, to be worked on by radiologists there. Actual diagnoses are not being made in India; instead the radiologists are converting two-dimensional scans into understandable scans for surgeons, which is a job typically performed by technicians. However, American radiologists are still concerned that jobs will be lost in the medical profession.

But, their fears may be unfounded:

  • Experts say that the number of X-rays from the United States now being read in India is miniscule and that regulatory restrictions are likely to keep it from growing rapidly.
  • Most hospital jobs, unlike those in radiology, require close patient contact, so there is a limit to how much offshore outsourcing can be done.
  • Employment in American health care has been growing; from August 2002 to August 2003, health care added about 250,000, with hospitals adding about 70,000 of those jobs.

Radiology is not the only medial service that may someday be performed for Americans by people in other countries. Other candidates are the analysis of tissue samples, the reading of electrocardiograms (EKGs), the monitoring of intensive care units and even robotic surgery.

The plan at Massachusetts General Hospital shows that even medical care, the most intimate and localized of services, is grappling with globalization that has moved many jobs across the ocean. Eventually, there may be a division of labor, with high-end services performed in the United States and more routine services done in countries with lower wages.

Source: Andrew Pollack, "Who's Reading Your X-Ray?" New York Times, November 16, 2003.


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