Thrusting radiology into the public eye

May 28, 2003

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comI like ice cream sandwiches. On a hot afternoon, after running around outside with my kids, nothing tastes better. The problem is

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

I like ice cream sandwiches. On a hot afternoon, after running around outside with my kids, nothing tastes better. The problem is they don't last very long. And it's not just me. Ice cream sandwiches, I've discovered, are shrinking.

It's part of a trend. There's a commercial running on TV about an executive who saved his employer $200,000 by putting one less olive in every jar. Now, as part of his new job, he has to save the company a half million dollars. Internet phones, we are told, are the answer.

Last week I was talking to an executive of a small company who changed his service to use Internet phones. He was speaking to me on his cell phone. The Internet phones weren't working.

Whereas companies that market to consumers may be tempted to deliver less for the same amount of money, medical imaging has consistently delivered more for less. And I think it is time to get this message out. We are seeing the first signs of a looming war over healthcare costs, and it is only a matter of time until radiology is drawn into the crosshairs.

We've gone through such attacks twice before-once with the Reagan DRGs and again with the Clintons' attempt to reform healthcare. The attacks are always preceded by stories about spiraling healthcare costs-and those stories have started appearing again.

We need to learn from the past and nip this in the bud. As consumers take a more active role in healthcare, they need to know the value that imaging provides. The facts are striking. The first high-field MR scanners cost $2 million-plus 20 years ago. Today they cost about 20% less. I won't even begin to estimate how much more powerful they are. Sixteen-slice spiral scanners cost about as much as CTs did when they were introduced 30 years ago. Ultrasound systems, x-ray equipment, gamma cameras-you name it-all have held steady or dropped in price. Yet today they are enormously more efficient and generate exponentially greater clinical value.

Other industries have gotten messages about their products and services across to the public. Why not medical imaging? The political infrastructure is in place for both equipment makers and practitioners. These two camps could coordinate a public awareness campaign highlighting the benefits and cost-effectiveness of imaging. There is no downside. At best, they stunt a possible attack aimed at the purchase and use of imaging equipment. At worst, they educate the public about the value of radiology.