To compete, radiology groups must offer specialty reads

June 21, 2010
Rebekah Moan

Radiologists must get used to the idea of competing with nontraditional companies such as teleradiology provider Radisphere if they hope to survive, according to a radiology practice expert. In particular they must provide subspecialty coverage, otherwise it’s all too easy to replace them.

Radiologists must get used to the idea of competing with nontraditional companies such as teleradiology provider Radisphere if they hope to survive, according to a radiology practice expert. In particular they must provide subspecialty coverage, otherwise it’s all too easy to replace them.

Berwick Hospital Center and Lock Haven Hospital, both in Pennsylvania, have signed agreements with Radisphere National Radiology Group, formerly Franklin & Seidelmann, for a combination of onsite and remote interpretation services, as well as full nighttime radiology coverage.

“Our geographic location has created a challenge when it comes to attracting the focused attention of a radiology practice,” said Ron Beer, CEO of Berwick Hospital Center. “So in some respects we are an underserved area for radiology expertise.”

This type of agreement is not new, but is a harbinger of more to come, according to Dr. Lawrence Muroff, president and CEO of Imaging Consultants in Tampa, FL, and a long-time follower of radiology practice.

“This is just one of several types of nontraditional competitors that radiologists will encounter in the next several years,” he said.

A Radisphere executive said it’s a false premise radiology groups have not competed in the past.

“Contracts for radiology services have moved between local and regional groups for years in a healthy competitive manner,” said Clayton Larsen, senior vice president of client and network development at Radisphere. “Those providing the best service levels and quality, as perceived by their medical staff colleagues, were rewarded with long-term contract extensions and a comfortable incumbency.”

The only thing different about Radisphere is that it has a national network of specialized radiologists along with the technology infrastructure and a large group of nonphysician support personnel, so is able to deploy its services across the country instead of being limited to a regional geography, Larsen said.

That subspecialty expertise is the cornerstone of the competition between companies like Radisphere and local radiology groups, Muroff said.

“The bottom line is, these entities-these nontraditional entities-l;give hospital administrators options they’ve never had before,” he said.

Companies like Radisphere are able to provide interpretations as well as quality and satisfaction metrics radiologists hadn’t even thought about before, Muroff said. In the future, the quality and satisfaction metrics will be part and parcel of requests for radiology services.

“Basically it’s ratcheting up the competitive landscape,” he said. “I think if radiologists wish to retain their tenure and their contracts, they have to redouble their efforts to be a value-added asset in their hospitals.”

To become value-added assets radiologists must maintain close relationships with their hospital. If there is a close relationship, the hospital administrator will talk about their needs to the radiologists instead of hurrying to replace them. Radiology groups also need to provide subspecialty coverage, whether through hiring more radiologists, partnering with other radiology groups, or collaborating with medical schools, he said.

All things being equal, hospital administrators prefer local radiology groups, Muroff said. In recent discussions with representatives of a few health systems, executives said they would rather deal with their local radiologists.

“The bottom line is, if their local radiologists are unable or unwilling to provide the expertise and the service the administration believes is important, they’ll look elsewhere,” he said.

Hospital administrators don’t relish the idea of replacing a radiology group because it’s trouble for them, but they will if they have to, Muroff said. More important, if a radiology group is unable or unwilling to supply what the hospital demands, other companies such as Radisphere will meet the challenge.

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