3 strategic tips for radiology practices to emerge stronger from the pandemic

Many imaging providers’ pandemic recovery strategies focus on immediate operational challenges, such as regaining exam volumes and facility cleaning policies. While important, one Seattle physician believes a broader approach will ensure practices emerge stronger than ever.

Joshua M. Liao, MD, with the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine in Seattle made that assertion Friday, in an opinion piece published by JACR.

He says the pandemic, despite all its disruptions, has created an opportunity to improve healthcare delivery. And organizations that undertake more than the minimum requirements to operate in the post-COVID-19 world will strengthen their position and quality of care.

“Seizing this opportunity to focus on a true COVID-19 recovery strategy means understanding how the health care landscape will change going forward,” he wrote. “Although nothing is certain, and situations will likely inevitably vary by local circumstances over time, a few trends are likely.”

Below are three trends providers should consider:

1. Patient decision-making: As the virus hit, people quickly passed up critical treatment. And even when doors reopen as normal, rads can’t assume patients will return to the “status quo of care,” Liao said. Instead, practices must address safety issues and the psychology behind American’s behaviors. Pursuing new programs, such as “nudge interventions” to improve imaging-based cancer screening is one possibility, he suggested.

2. Insurance coverage: Rising unemployment may drive individuals from employer-sponsored commercial plans toward marketplace and Medicaid options. Changes to this payer mix may throw off radiology practices’ anticipated volumes and financial projections. Such providers should heed these changes and adopt new strategies for care delivery and meet patients’ needs under new benefit plans.

3. Payment models: COVID-19 has revealed how heavily healthcare depends on patient volumes, and organizations looking to insulate themselves from this financial exposure must shift toward cost-focused models. Many longtime rads are comfy with capitation incentives, but value-based options such as Medicare accountable care organizations or capitated outpatient contracts may be needed alternatives. Providers that use this recovery period to strategize will “clearly be better prepared to thrive in different circumstances,” Liao said.

“Ultimately, the process of COVID-19 recovery creates both operational challenges and strategic opportunities for radiology practices and other health care providers,” he concluded. “Although much of the attention thus far has been trained on the former, groups could also stand to benefit by focusing on the latter.”