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Health Care Is a Team Sport

By Jim Knaub

Douglas G. Smith, FRBMA, calls health care a team sport. He makes an excellent point. Speaking at AHRA’s 2015 annual meeting last month, the managing partner of Integrated Medical Partners said radiology groups and hospital imaging departments should recognize that they’re on same team—despite their mutual tradition of too often not seeing it that way.

“We need [hospitals and radiology groups] to work as partners,” Smith said. “There are things that hospitals understand about what’s happening with populations and patients that the physicians don’t. There are things that physicians know that hospitals don’t have any visibility of—why don’t we share that together? Why don’t we manage this right to all our benefit?”

As health care starts a migration from predominantly fee-for-service reimbursement, through bundled reimbursement, toward value- and merit-based models where providers bear much greater financial risk, Smith sees both hospitals and radiologists benefitting from greater alignment of their shared purpose of delivering high-value imaging care. The days are over when every group in health care can cut their own generous slice out of a large, rapidly growing health care pie.

Imaging growth is flattening and the radiology department will less often be seen as the big driver of hospital profits, but with the swarm of baby boomers entering their peak health care consumption years, imaging demand isn’t going away. Hospitals will still need to deliver imaging services and radiologists are still the people most capable of running an efficient, quality department. Hospitals want their radiologists to do that. Radiology groups that provide that leadership are the ones most likely to thrive by making themselves indispensible to hospitals—or at least a more attractive option than their competitors. For the radiology groups, part of achieving that objective is aligning the group’s objectives with the hospital’s.

In an AHRA session on marketing and customer service, medical marketer Tina Rudisill advocated that hospitals and radiology groups work together to include the radiology group in a hospital’s customer service initiative, which it seems every hospital is working on these days. Her point is that being perceived as supporting the hospital’s mission beyond providing exam reads and imaging oversight is a smart step for groups looking to strengthen their relationships and keep their contracts.

In a consolidating health care environment—in which hospital systems, medical groups, and insurers all are consolidating—radiology groups that take this approach are much more likely to remain on the inside after the next round of consolidation. If two hospital systems merge, a radiology group that proves its value and is perceived as well aligned with the hospital mission is likely to be the dominant group in the consolidated system, if not the surviving group in the hospital system.

Smith cautioned the audience that such an approach might not generate a great deal of new revenue for a radiology group, but is the best way to keep it from losing a great deal of revenue.

— Jim Knaub is editor of Radiology Today.