Integration, interoperability deliver competitive advantage

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Medical imaging in the United States faces some tough economic challenges in the near term. Procedure reimbursement, already slashed as a result of the Deficit Reduction Action Act of 2005, appears certain to take another downturn in 2010. Combine this less than rosy forecast with a tightening of credit facilities to practices large and small and the outlook appears grim.

“Continuing to do things the same way we always have is not a viable long-term strategy,” said Bob Maier, CEO of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Regents Health Resources.

Maier, who spoke in a presentation last week at the 2009 Association for Medical Imaging Management (AHRA) meeting in Las Vegas, observed that the business of radiology is changing and that its threats are real and multiplying.

In an attempt to reign in overall healthcare costs, medical imaging has emerged as the poster-child for rampant growth. Maier cited an analysis by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) of PET, CT and MRI utilization between 1995-2005, which revealed that advanced imaging grew 16.1 percent per year, each year, over the ten-year period.

This 445 percent utilization increase has not gone unnoticed by policy makers. As such, pleas by medical imaging professional organizations, such as the American College of Radiology (ACR), to tamper proposed reimbursement cuts are likely to fall on deaf ears.

For imaging professionals, the bright spot on the horizon is that procedure volume will continue to grow. According to Maier, the pipeline of aging population (65 years or older) will significantly ramp up in the next two to three years—rising at a compound annual growth rate of 3 percent.

“The 65-plus demographic consumes two to three times the number of scans as younger patients,” Maier noted. “And the 65-plus population is projected to grow by 54 percent from 2000 to 2020.”

An increased procedure volume coupled with lower reimbursement rates means that medical imaging practices will need to maximize the tools at their disposal to remain competitive.

Integrated and interoperable IT across the practice continuum is no longer a luxury—it is a competitive advantage, according to Maier. He recommended a strategy of workflow, training and technology to cope with the challenge of increasing volume.

“Your data tools should be able to display data from disparate sources, create look-up tables to merge data sets, create automated dashboards and reports, push information to end users automatically, allow selected users to have the ability to explore data and merge data from different sources when a common field is identified,” Maier noted.

IT integration and interoperability is a must, Maier said, including with EMR and hospital information systems as well as the more ubiquitous RIS, PACS and voice recognition systems.

“Cost savings are coming out of our imaging centers and hospital departments, not necessarily on a voluntary basis, but they will come out of our bottom lines,” Maier said. “We have to become more efficient.”