2007 Top Trends in Health Imaging & IT

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Health imaging operations have become increasingly difficult in recent years. 2007 in particular has been a milestone with the reimbursement reductions from the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) hitting imaging facilities and departments hard. (And further cuts to Medicare, proposed in current legislation, may not be too far behind.) Besides declining reimbursement, external factors such as greater competition and changing regulations are putting additional pressure on already constrained operations in hospitals and freestanding imaging centers of all sizes, according to the findings of our annual Top Trends survey in which 483 imaging and IT professionals offered their viewpoint.

Many respondents tell us they plan to increase procedure volumes to improve the bottom line, but adding procedures carries its own set of challenges. Increasing procedure volumes and skyrocketing slice counts associated with state-of-the-art solutions such as 64-slice and dual source CT and digital mammography force radiologists, IT staffers and techs to cope with more data, more patients and more work. Consequently, improving workflow poses a challenge for all imaging providers. Overall, this year’s trends show that facilities are buying new technologies such as 64-slice CT and increasing procedure volume and bettering workflow, but hiring fewer FTEs.

Imaging, clinical and health IT technologies continue to provide a holy grail for radiology departments, imaging centers and hospitals of all sizes. Survey respondents tell us they are looking to invest in digital acquisition solutions such as digital mammography and CT, especially 64-slice systems; MRI and PET/CT are next on the priority list. The systems offer a way to differentiate a facility or group from its competition and provide high-quality diagnostic imaging. Other priorities include electronic medical records (EMRs), computerized physician order entry (CPOE) and voice recognition. Each promises to bring about essential workflow improvements and patient care enhancements. Read on to learn about the macro and micro details of this year’s Top Trends in Health Imaging & IT survey.


Survey at a glance

In all, some 483 respondents participated in the Top Trends in Health Imaging & IT survey between July 6 and August 20, 2007. Participation also was solicited by the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA) of its members. All data were submitted to and analyzed by Health Imaging & IT.

Respondents cut across a wide array of imaging insiders from radiology administrators to PACS administrators, radiologists and technologists, as well as C-level facility leaders such as CEOs and CIOs. More than 400 hospitals participated in the survey with academic medical centers, hospital systems, imaging centers and physician practices rounding out the respondents. Hospital sizes are nearly evenly divided amongst those under 200 beds, 200 to 500 beds and over 500 bed hospitals. Image volume for all respondents varied from under 10,000 annual exams to more than 1,000,000 yearly procedures. Twenty-two percent of respondents completed 50,000 to 100,000 exams in 2006, and another 22 percent completed 100,000 to 200,000 studies last year.

It’s no surprise that budgets are fairly tight on both the IT and imaging sides of the market. IT budgets for 2007 range from under $50,000 to $9 million. Nearly 30 percent of sites expect expenditures to be flat in 2008, but nearly 20 percent expect a 5 to 20 percent increase—and a lucky 13 percent expect a more than 25 percent increase in IT funds. Imaging budgets are concentrated in the $100,000 to $3 million range, and once again, more than one-quarter will see no change in 2008. But 25 percent expect a small increase, and more than 10 percent are counting on a 25 percent or greater increase. This month, a handful of survey sites share their operational and capital priorities with Health Imaging & IT.




Imaging under pressure

It may come as no surprise that nearly three-fourths of sites report increasing procedure volume as a very important priority for 2008 operations. Sites plan to employ a variety of strategies to ramp up volume. The ticket to increased volume, respondents tell us, is the physician referral base, and there are multiple ways to win referrals. Think technology and service differentiation—remote access to clinical images and the EMR, partnerships with physician groups and alliances with hospitals.

The EMR is rapidly becoming an essential across