For many hospitals, radiology can be just another contracted service. But for those who recognize the impact prompt and accurate radiology can add value to all the inpatient services hospitals provide, retaining the right partner is imperative.
Standardization to minimize duplication and waste is critical, but radiology isn’t always where many healthcare leaders expect to find those opportunities. It should be, says Allen Tseng, chief operating officer at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, a 444-bed hospital in the Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston.
Memorial City, like many hospitals, contracts with an outside radiology practice, in this case, Radiology Partners.
“We needed them to go beyond interpreting images correctly,” says Tseng. “A few years ago, we looked into deep dive in ER processes because we had experienced a downward trend in turnaround for our 70,000 annual visits. Radiology was one of the stakeholders in interpreting the data.”
Fixing ER and Imaging Bottlenecks
Throughput bottlenecks are common in ERs, one of the most complex and uncertain places to practice medicine. Each of those bottlenecks can increase length of stay, and thus the cost of a patient encounter. Memorial City contracts with several key physician groups, including anesthesiology, emergency, and hospitalists.
An ER process redesign about four years ago was revelatory for Tseng because in part because of that engagement from the radiology group. The group found that the ER was failing to accurately anticipate peak volume and low-volume times and staff accordingly, radiology included. Fixing that problem led to marked improvements in turnaround times, and thus, length of stay.
The data showed that deploying the right resources at the right times, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the weekends could save plenty of time and money through better radiology throughput. Before that exercise, staffing was flat at all times, with only two radiologists assigned. But increasing radiology staffing during peak times and reducing it during slack times improved ER discharge.
Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.