We are all feeling the impact of COVID-19 on our lives as well as on our professions. Medical imaging practices are similarly being impacted. Unfortunately, much of the affect of this disease will have long-standing implications that will linger far beyond the containment of COVID-19. In order to survive and perhaps even grow in the new reality, imaging practices will need to make drastic adjustments in how they operate.
Patient Fear Decreases Imaging Center Volume
Fearing public exposure, patients have avoided most of what they deem elective medical procedures. The direct impact on medical imaging volume has been significant. Medical imaging volume has been 60-70% less than during the immediately preceding pre-COVID period. While imaging practices may be expecting this to result in pent-up demand as COVID wanes, new safety procedures have increased the time required for every procedure, thereby decreasing utilization and patient throughput. The Advisory Board suggests that imaging practices will have to plan an additional 10+ minutes for each patient time slot, reducing capacity for expensive capital equipment like CT scanners by as much as 33%.
Hospital imaging centers have been hit hardest. Patients’ perception of visiting a hospital during the pandemic has caused them to prefer free-standing practices, which they perceive to be less of a risk. This trend is expected to continue as CMS’s new price transparency disclosures go into effect in January 2021, accelerating the migration towards lower-cost independent imaging centers. Couple all that with an expected 8% decrease in CMS projected radiology payments, and you’ve got a prescription for disaster for those imaging practices that are reluctant to make major changes in the way they do business.
The situation is dire for imaging practices that refuse to adjust. For those willing to reinvent themselves there are several actions they can take to adjust to the new reality.
1. Remove unnecessary costs
Staffing needs to be adjusted to address the reality of reduced patient flows. Practices that remove inefficiencies will find that they can continue to operate with fewer staff. Avoiding low-value tasks like burning or mailing CDs is one area that most practices can address immediately. For a practice that burns as few as 100 discs a week, this can amount to $100,000 or more of annual cost reduction.
A growing number of practices that had been reluctant to charge patients for copies of their images are now finding that the financial exigencies of this situation require different thinking. In the U.S., federal and most state regulations permit charging patients for copies of their scans. Those practices that enable added value, like perpetual cloud storage of a patient's images and easy sharing/viewing are more easily able to justify this new patient fee, without negatively impacting patient satisfaction.
2. Fortify Physician Referrals
Almost every imaging practice is fueled by physician referrals. Analyzing why current physicians refer patients to you, and ensuring you are meeting and exceeding their current expectations is critical. According to the Advisory Board, referring physician priorities are patient safety, easy access and efficiency, price competitiveness, and clear physician and patient communication.
Easy access means flexible schedules that enable walk-ins. Practices that are fortunate to be able to operate with open spots throughout their day, will likely become magnets for new referrals. Efficiency means that delays are reduced and that patients spend only the time required to complete the procedure within the confines of the medical office. Patient safety is a base level requirement of every medical practice. But effectively communicating that to both patients and referring sources is a new requirement for imaging practices. Best practices include posters highlighting the procedures used and emails to patients setting expectations in advance of their visit.
Clear communication means that imaging centers share the results of scans with both referring sources and patients, as well as downstream physicians, in a timely and complete manner. Establishing easily accessible online physician and patient portals to enable access, viewing, storage, and sharing of results has grown in importance. Eliminating the discs and avoiding the delay and bother consumed by burning, mailing, or couriering discs and then having to ingest them into the recipients’ often incompatible system is what is now expected.
3. Delight Patients
It may sound odd to include the word delight when referring to an imaging patient. But patients are customers and fewer are blindly acquiring medical services without considering the consumer experience. Patients of course want to remain safe while receiving the required treatment as effortlessly as possible. They want to spend as little time in a medical office as practical, given the current circumstances.
It is not sufficient to focus on the in-office experience alone to please your patient-customer. Customers expect to gain control of their results to save and share with other medical professionals. Extra time spent standing around the checkout desk waiting for a disk to be correctly burned and then having to carry or mail that disk to a down-stream physician, is not delightful. Computers no longer have CD drives, disks get lost, forgotten, or damaged, and delivering these discs to a physician is time-consuming. Electronic storage, access, and sharing of patient medical images is a simple way for an imaging center to delight their patients.
While payers used to shoulder the costs of retests they are beginning to push back on excess imaging. With larger co-pays, patients are eager to have their original paid-for scans seen by subsequent physicians without having costly and unhealthy rescans done. Having their original scans available to share with subsequent physicians in a form that can be easily read is key to their increasing satisfaction.
The Future Belongs to Those Who Change
While change is never easy, it is no longer practical to accept the status quo. Imaging practices are fighting for their very survival requiring fundamental changes in how they operate. Addressing these critical issues head-on will be the difference between life and death for these imaging practices.
Purview Grow provides your patients and referring physicians with electronic disc-free access and perpetual cloud storage of their patient’s imaging results, and enables seamless sharing with other down-stream physicians. Contact us to learn more!