ACR launches medical imaging think tank

August 07, 2012
by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor
The American College of Radiology has launched a think tank to evaluate how medical imaging affects U.S. health care costs and how changing payment and delivery models will shape radiology.

ACR said Monday that the new center, called the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute, would partly focus on figuring out radiology's place as health care moves from a fee-for-service model to the new world of bundled payments and accountable care organizations.

"Our approach is to look at the imaging space, figure out what's working and not working, and help our members as we transition to new payment systems," Dr. Bibb Allen Jr., chair of HPI's board of directors, told DOTmed News.

The institute, named in honor of Harvey L. Neiman, a noted radiologist and the society's CEO, would also take a more global look at the costs of medical imaging, which has often been fingered as one of the culprits behind the country's soaring health care costs.

For instance, in its press release, ACR noted that while past research often focused only on how the volume of imaging, and therefore the expense, has gone up, it wants the think tank to examine the possible "downstream" savings achieved by high-tech scans as they help replace costlier invasive procedures or allow more efficient management of care.

"[Imaging has] kind of got a bad rap for escalating growth," Allen said. "If you ask me, I think imaging has grown because it's valuable for the health care system, but it's certainly an unpopular belief to have."

U.S. health care costs totaled around $2.6 trillion in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And though imaging utilization enjoyed years of torrid growth at the turn of the millennium, it began to slow down after 2005, according to a number of recent studies. A paper in Health Affairs last month found CT and MRI imaging grew 6 percent every year until dropping to a mere 1 to 3 percent growth, starting in 2006.

HPI's plans

Allen said the plan for the new think tank, which grew somewhat out of the ACR's old socioeconomic research division, is both to do in-house work and to make data available to outside researchers from other think tanks and in academia.

Without specifying an exact number, ACR said it gave a "large initial commitment" as seed money for the HPI, but expects the institute to also raise further funds through foundations, grants and other outside sources.

Full-time staff at the institute, housed at ACR's headquarters in Reston, Va., include two economists, Martey S. Dodoo, the senior health policy research economist, and Danny R. Hughes, research director. Dodoo previously worked as an economist and statistician at the Marshfield Clinic and the Robert Graham Center, while Hughes worked as an assistant director for research at the ACR and as a faculty member at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center's health administration and policy department.

Dr. Richard Duszak Jr., a practicing radiologist, will act as CEO of the HPI. He also serves on its board.

"We're certainly committed to having this go on long term," Allen said. "The need for data, the need for understanding is going to be preeminent as we transition to new payment systems with health reform."