Imaging center managers discuss survival measures

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On the minds of everyone at this weeks Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) 2006 Radiology Summit in Miami, Fla. was how to survive the expected imaging reimbursement “D-Day” that will be caused by The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), set to begin next year with the imaging cuts it targets. A roundtable discussion at the event including nearly 100 imaging center business managers covered a huge variety of ways to survive.

Some of the managers in attendance have sought ways to amend their existing contracts with payers with the hope that if there is conflict between the contract and new payments rules “the fee schedule in the contact prevails.”  However, others said that in their experience insurers simply respond that such changes, as called for by the DRA for example, are national policies and nothing can be done to change it.

If nothing can be done to outmaneuver the new rules, then imaging centers are faced with the challenge of finding ways to either cut costs or grow volume. Since benefits are a huge cost concern, some attendees interjected that perhaps a good approach is to introduce part-time employment. Or, consider cross-training employees so they can perform in multiple departments, one manager said. Another roundtable participant said that his business had seen an increase in MR productivity by having tech aids do some of the patient preparation prior to an exam rather than a Technologist.

Otherwise, systems such as RIS can help centers in operating more efficiently and streamlining costs, and saving office space. Some facilities have been able to reduce the number of staff transciptionists through the use of RIS/PACS. Of course, some centers are now being forced to consider buying used modalities rather than new in order to save their budgets, or to delay buying systems altogether.

Some participants were less hopeful that much can be done to counter the impact of reimbursement cuts and that only after some lawmaker has a bad experience with Medicare, or one of their relatives does, nothing will be done.

Beyond imaging center efficiency, more business can be brought in to an imaging center through smart marketing activities. Key to this is physician involvement. Depending on their interests, different radiologists can be taken on different types of marketing-related events involving referring physicians. The development of relationships, some suggested, is essential to building a strong business and also true for radiology. Beyond traditional marketing activities, simple approaches such as having a radiologist call in results personally for abnormal exams can be another way to bolster positive relations with outside physicians, a number of roundtable participants said.