Combat Radiologist Commoditization with Visibility

August 14, 2012

AHRA: Radiologists who thrive amidst increasing commoditization are those willing to become more visible leaders and offering consulting and value-added services.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Radiologists are facing increasing threats of commoditization, and practices that can thrive among those pressures must stand out as visible leaders in the health care community.

“Groups are being replaced because hospitals think one group of radiologists is no different than another,” Lawrence Muroff, MD, of Imaging Consultants Inc. in Tampa, Fla., said in an interview. He spoke on the topic at this week’s 2012 annual meeting of the AHRA, association of medical imaging management.

“Commoditization has occurred because by outsourcing we have taught hospitals that any study can be read by anybody at any time. That basically makes the radiologist invisible,” he said. “When radiologists become invisible, they become fungible. If we are all alike we become a commodity and commodities are traded on price.”

Groups that are bucking that trend are those who have put a greater emphasis on consulting and providing value-added services, such as subspecialty expertise around the clock. Many groups are taking back call from the outsourcing companies, and reintegrating their radiologists back into the leadership of the hospital, Muroff said.

“The first thing we have to do is become more visible,” he said. Without visibility and availability to consult with ordering physicians, radiologists become out of sight, out of mind. Instead, radiologists should seek to become active members of the hospital medical staff and serve as members of the hospital board.

“Integrating themselves into the community - that’s something a remote entity can’t compete as effectively with,” he said.

Commoditization of radiology is only compounded by the pressures from national entrepreneurial companies that are offering hospitals an alternative to traditional radiology groups, Muroff said. This corporatization of radiology is placing an enormous burden on groups that are losing their hospital contracts, and the companies are becoming more and more aggressive, he said.

However, some radiologists might grumble at the call for more visibility, as those are tasks that aren’t reimbursed. There aren’t RVUs for many of those activities, Muroff noted, and often younger radiologists are concerned they won’t be able to keep up with their RVUs if they spend time on the non-clinical outreach and consultation. Muroff’s response? You won’t have to worry about that if you don’t have a job, meaning that it’s become an integral part of the radiologist’s duties.

“It’s a tough environment,” he said, “but groups that are proactive basically take into consideration the non-clinical activities as well as the clinical responsibilities.”