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Getting Imaging into Focus

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, December 28, 2011
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Hospital leaders at St. Joseph’s, Saddleback Memorial, and Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, have contractual relationships with radiologists to increase their coverage and reduce overall labor costs. Defining the relationship is crucial, says Hart of St. Joseph’s.

St. Joseph’s contracts with a radiology group in northern New Jersey for on-site professional services coverage. “We enjoy a talented mix of subspecialty radiologists who cover every imaging modality and our interventional radiology section,” says Hart. “On the overnights, we utilize a national [around-the-clock] service that provides preliminary readings on urgent studies. Their initial reads are supplemented by the final readings of our attending staff radiologists. The use of the nighthawk service is kept at reduced levels because of the expanded hours of coverage provided by our radiologists” in-house.

The demand for imaging mounts, whether in the form of radiology companies pitching around-the-clock coverage on site or teleradiology companies employing remote access.

“Larger hospitals are swallowing up some surrounding clinician groups and putting more radiologists on staff. But others, especially rural hospitals, don’t have the capacity for keeping up,” says Anand Lalaji, MD, CEO and founder of the Radiology Group, an Atlanta-based provider of remote and on-site radiology services.

Radiology groups are cashing in on demands from hospitals that don’t have the money to pay for full-time, around-the-clock coverage, as well the need for subspecialties.

Lalaji says smaller hospitals especially are seeking radiology reads at reduced costs, “getting a subspecialty read when you can’t afford a subspecialist.” Hospitals are using the service, in part, to cut back on insurance-related costs and save dollars in this realm of insurance reimbursement cutbacks, he says.

When hospital systems are looking to contract with radiology practices, generally “you need a good group that has a vested interest in the community,” says Rob Williams, PhD, clinical supervisor for the radiology program at the 87-staffed-bed Memorial Medical Center of West Michigan in Ludington, MI, which hires radiology practitioners for 24/7 coverage.

Success key No. 3: Reducing use of scans
Some in the industry contend overuse of powerful CT scans is exposing patients to needless radiation, increasing cancer risk, and adding costs to already expensive care.

“It is a two-pronged challenge: one being to focus on minimizing radiation dose, and the other to ensure patients’ physical well-being while in our department,” says Hart of St. Joseph’s.

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