Alternative Medicine for Radiologists

July 27, 2011

It seems to me we should play to our strengths, and use our gear and knowhow to tap into some lucrative, unregulated markets.

Fresh from writing my last column about eternally-plummeting reimbursements and how we’re expected to maintain business as usual, I was in serious need of clearing my head. So, off I went to my gym to vent my frustrations in a positive direction. “Sublimation,” the psych-types call this particular defense-mechanism.

While there, I marveled at all of the ways people freely spend their money in the name of good health. The same folks who balk at forking over a $10 co-pay for procedures that would otherwise cost them hundreds of bucks are quite willing to spend small fortunes on things insurance won’t cover at all - personal trainers, massage, dietary “supplements,” tanning…

It occurred to me that, if you’re in a line of business outside the realm of conventional health care, life can be much simpler. You name the price for your goods and services, and interested customers pay it - no insurer or government agency is there to tell you that you charged too much, or that you weren’t authorized to conduct that transaction at all. There’s no standard-of-care for an ambulance-chaser or hired-gun “expert” to claim you violated.

On the other hand, we in radiology have acquired, manned, maintained, and upgraded an awful lot of expensive equipment. To leave it sitting idle while we go out peddling pills or pursuing credentials in aromatherapy seems wasteful. Further, it leaves behind our unquestioned area of expertise. It seems to me we should play to our strengths, and use our gear and knowhow to tap into some of these lucrative, unregulated markets. For instance:

Palmistry. Someone with nothing more than a dramatic flair and a willingness to tell people what they want to hear gets - at a minimum - $20 for a couple of minutes holding their hand. Hey, we can offer far more than that! Do a thin-slice, high-res scan of their palms. Make meaningless measurements of volumes, curvatures, and angles. For an extra fee, they can take home a printed film with annotations on it. If you want a fancy word for this, call it cheirology.

Extispicy. For centuries, society believed that you could fiddle with entrails (usually those of animals) to divine the future. Pretty much nobody offers that service nowadays; this is a void waiting to be filled. Thanks to fluoro, we don’t even need to kill anyone to do it. How much are you getting reimbursed for a small bowel follow-through? A buck and a quarter? I know I’d find predicting someone’s future a lot more interesting than trying to spot their terminal ileum…Just think of all of the time your fluoro-table’s sitting idle.

Aura or chakra readings. Your gamma camera need no longer feel neglected. Put your eager customer on the table and scan for background counts in any area of interest. Who’s to say one or two counts’ worth of difference is statistically insignificant; you can make monetary mountains out of these molehills. When PET reimbursements eventually get too low to make them worthwhile, you can start doing readings there, too.

The possibilities are endless; just about any old hogwash can have imaging-technology shoehorned into it if you’re creative enough. Paint some Zodiac signs around the circumference of your CT scanner. Offer phrenology or physiognomy based on 3D recons of your customers’ heads. Read UBOs in someone’s brain MRI as if they were tea leaves. The more innovative you get, the likelier it’ll be that you’re the only one offering such “services.” The rich and famous will beat a path to your door. Who knows? While they’re there, they just might indulge you by getting their annual mammogram.