The Value of In-House Radiology Departments

March 13, 2012

Radiology groups bring increased worth through timely service, imaging expertise, high exam quality, expert interpretation, patient safety, and cost containment.

Over the past few years - especially as reimbursement values have slipped away - hospitals have increasingly viewed radiology departments as significant cost centers. This inaccurate perception has negatively affected how facilities perceive the specialty, and it must change for hospital-radiology relationships to improve, according to Vijay M. Rao, MD.

While the machines associated with diagnostic imaging carry a high price tag, radiology services are often a hospital’s biggest revenue producer, said Rao, chair of radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, speaking at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting last fall. In fact, the specialty accounts for 37 percent of profits associated with outpatient appointments.

But their value can’t be measured by the bottom line alone, she said, according to news reports. Practices also bring increased worth through timely service, imaging expertise, high exam quality, expert interpretation, patient safety, and cost containment.

Having an on-site radiology group that runs smoothly can bring a great deal of value to a hospital, she said, but those benefits often go unnoticed until other specialties start to pull the department apart or if the hospital outsources its diagnostic imaging needs to teleradiology companies.

In-house radiologists are an integral and necessary component to keeping patients safe because they can readily provide guidance on the most appropriate imaging study, as well as individually tailor protocols to control radiation exposure. Providing these services is highly valuable because teleradiologists or non-radiologists can’t do the same thing.

In that vein, she said, it’s time for on-hand radiologists to actively augment the services they offer. For example, being available to consult with referring physicians is a tangible added value that can positively impact patient care throughout the hospital.