Feature: Imaging center managers deal with an array of change

por John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | July 09, 2015
From the July 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

While some centers soldier on alone, others seek out partners and work to fill a need. With hospitals also feeling the reimbursement pinch, some are teaming up with freestanding facilities instead of outright acquiring them. This transition can be seen at Bloomington Radiology in Normal, Illinois, which has evolved from a private practice radiology imaging center to a group that now serves two health systems in the community.

“We wear several hats with our hospital partners to take care of all of our patients,” explains Bill Wilson, practice administrator at Bloomington Radiology. “For example, some of our radiologists are in a joint venture with one of the area health systems at another outpatient imaging facility, Ft. Jesse Imaging Center.” He says Ft. Jesse Imaging is the only full-service freestanding imaging center in a county with approximately 145,000 residents. “We also provide considerable imaging interpretation for private practices,” adds Wilson.

Bloomington Radiology operates out of a large outpatient medical office building that houses private and hospital-based services for urgent care, rehab, wound care, and a private orthopedics practice. “From a business standpoint, since the early 2000s, outpatient imaging has evolved from being a very profitable venture to a tight margin, but clinically critical, [with a] service line that has to be carefully managed to control expenses. We also have to build volumes by providing good service to referring physicians and patients,” says Wilson.

He says that while a few CT and MRI competitors have dropped out of the market, Bloomington has seen its volumes increase 10 to15 percent across all modalities this year. But he adds, they are located in a remarkably stable economic market with a predominantly white-collar, college-educated workforce possessing a higher than-average household income.

Important industry trends
RBMA’s Mabry says there are major challenges for imaging center managers, ranging from new reimbursement systems to reduced payments and the need for greater price transparency.

Of special concern is the MITA Smart Dose XR-29 regulation that goes into effect Jan. 1. The regulation, covered extensively by DOTmed News, is intended to reduce radiation exposure. To do so, facilities will likely need to upgrade software or even replace machines to avoid Medicare payment cuts. Federal program payment penalties are 5 percent on the technical component in 2016, increasing to 15 percent in 2017 and beyond for diagnostic CT procedures performed under the Medicare program.

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