Insurer sets accreditation as imaging standard

January 12, 2007

The UnitedHealth Group, serving 70 million individuals nationwide, announced today it will require imaging facilities in all 50 states to be accredited by next year. The move is a step in the right direction, but insurers need to go further, say some radiologists.

The UnitedHealth Group, serving 70 million individuals nationwide, announced today it will require imaging facilities in all 50 states to be accredited by next year. The move is a step in the right direction, but insurers need to go further, say some radiologists.

The accreditation program targets facilities that perform CT and CT angiography, MRI and MR angiography, nuclear medicine, nuclear cardiology, PET, and echocardiography services in freestanding outpatient facilities and physician offices.

"Quality is always necessary for optimal patient care, but there are two other components insurers need to consider as well," said Dr. Alan Kaye, a member of the American College of Radiology's steering committee.

Along with an emphasis on quality, payers should ensure that patients receive the appropriate examination for the clinical situation and that the exam is ordered for no other reason than to obtain information that benefits the patient. In other words, an exam that is not the result of inappropriate self-referral, Kaye said.

While UnitedHealth's mandate involves all 50 states, other insurers have introduced similar protocols but with a more limited reach. Last year, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio initiated accreditation restrictions for providers of MRI, nuclear medicine, nuclear cardiology, and PET.

In 2006, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City introduced a privileging program, which included among other requirements that CT and/or MR be performed at a practice site that provides at least three radiology modalities.

In 2004, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Pennsylvania initiated a similar privileging program for all of Western and Central Pennsylvania. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Connecticut specified that outpatient imaging centers need to be wholly owned by hospitals, radiologists, or both.

"Let's hope that after UnitedHealth roles out its accreditation program it will also initiate steps to ensure appropriateness and then begin a privileging program," said Kaye, who chairs the radiology department at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut.

UnitedHealth, headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, has teamed with the American College of Radiology and the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission to facilitate accreditation for its network of contracted imaging physicians.

Facilities must be accredited by March 1, 2008. The length of time needed to prepare an application varies. The ACR and ICA suggest that facilities seeking to meet the new requirements submit accreditation applications by June 1.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Colleges convene on cardiovascular imaging quality

Joint Commission sees strong demand for accreditation