A Brave New World

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 - Mary C. Tierney
Mary C. Tierney

We’ve changed our priorities, tightened our belts, stretched our budgets, postponed and scrapped projects, figured out how to be more efficient even in areas we previously couldn’t imagine could be better refined and become more conscious and conscientious of what we need and what we want. We got used to the fact that things could change at any time, and often did, that old parameters changed and previous measures melted away. We did the wait and see. It’s what the recession has done.

Because healthcare providers’ margins have been historically thin, managing costs is a constant challenge—made more so in a recession. But what’s an industry to do? Thrive and survive is what the 410 respondents to this month’s Top Trends in Health Imaging & IT tell us.

First-hand accounts and anecdotes tell us it’s been a tough year on imaging and IT. Before that it was the DRA, continued cuts to reimbursement—and now healthcare reform looms large with a large dose of how it will affect us. So when I sat down to review the survey results, I held my breath a bit. But instead of my breathing hastening with bad news, it calmed as the results show revenue is holding strong and imaging and IT investments are a clear priority because facilities are following through on orders and installs. While we see expected cuts in staffing, a push to improve productivity and workflow and for more efficient business processes, the overall impact across hospitals large and small and imaging centers is not as bad as we expected.

When it comes to revenue, about 36 percent of survey respondents report an increase in 2009, albeit conservative growth with 95 percent reporting increases of less than 15 percent. Revenue was flat at 32 percent of respondent facilities, while the remaining 32 percent saw revenue decline—with 34 percent of those seeing a decrease of less than 5 percent, and 87 percent with a decrease of less than 20 percent. Predictably, the declines are blamed on cuts to reimbursement, an increase in uncompensated care, more bad debt and reduced value of endowment stocks and investment portfolios.

It even seems that imaging and IT facilities and departments are defying the odds in terms of investment in imaging systems, IT infrastructure and clinical information systems. In imaging systems, about half of facilities report they spent the same in 2009 as in 2008, but 35 percent saw spending increase. As you’ll see, priorities in terms of modalities are shifiting, too. IT infrastructure budgets remained unchanged, according to 42 percent of the survey base, while 27 percent saw spending increase. Similarly, in clinical information systems budgets held steady at 53 percent of facilities, while 37 percent report an increase in spending. And better yet, optimism continues into 2010—both in terms of increased budget expectations and overall financial conditions as stock values have soared since bottoming out earlier this year.

In addition to presenting data from the overall survey base, we’ve broken out key categories by five facility types—so you can see where your facility stands versus similar organizations. And if you participated in the survey, thank you very much for taking the time to share your insight!