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The Trouble with Image Sharing, and the Opportunity

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, August 20, 2013

A July 25 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal faults the annual U.S. News and World Report "Best Hospitals" survey for its main focus being on the degree to which hospitals use certain cutting-edge technologies. The main example offered is robotic surgery, but imaging is probably a close runner-up.

Once those hugely expensive systems get installed, however, the hospital's imperative is to keep those imaging systems humming. If those systems aren't generating maximum possible revenue, they become cost centers, not revenue generators.

Now factor in standalone imaging centers that jump into markets, install newer systems, and steal some imaging business away from the hospitals in that market. That just adds to the pressure hospitals feel to maximize utilization.

It's a high-stakes game that won't be changed tomorrow by the Meaningful Use Stage 2 imaging menu option. Quoting Farzad Mostashari as I did last week, "We cannot have it be profitable to hoard patient information and unprofitable to share it."

Arguably, hoarding imaging data is one of the most highly profitable, and strategic, tactics of hospitals competing in a fee-for-service market. It also represents a huge opportunity to bend the cost curve of healthcare, but since it has only been introduced as a menu item for Stage 2, we can expect its impact not to really matter until Stage 3 is implemented, when it will become a core requirement. Don't look for that before 2017 at this rate.

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