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Feature: Imaging center managers deal with an array of change

by John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
From the July 2015 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

Once a profitable business, standalone imaging centers are now struggling. What’s particularly unfortunate is that they’re fading just as the recognized need for more health care services increases. In order for an imaging center to have a chance of remaining profitable, management has to be proactive, creative, and on top of their game. HealthCare Business News spoke with Davis Graham, executive director and CFO at Manatee Diagnostic, in Bradenton, Florida, about trends in imaging center management.

Graham offered a cynical laugh and cited a “new truth” in effect since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. “I belong to a health care advisory group through our chamber of commerce. A friend on that committee coined the term ‘the 6350 health insurance policy.’ This means patients now have an average out-of-pocket of $6,350. Patients are price shopping,” he says.

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Graham is a guy who thinks a lot about what is going on in health care. He is currently near completion of a master’s degree in health and medical informatics from Brandeis University, and by his own count he studies on average more than 350 pages a week about the changes unfolding in the American health care system — all this while managing Manatee, a family-owned independent outpatient imaging center that performs nearly 300 imaging tests a day.

“What we have right now in health care is a slave relationship,” Graham states. “Pricing is not set by the people who provide the service; it is set by the government and the insurance companies. This is ironic when you consider that the quality of any health care experience is defined by the physician-patient relationship.” Imaging center managers deal with an array of change

Graham says that his center is having a banner year for volumes, but is also seeing its lowest reimbursement rates ever. Graham and others in the business have to not only manage to keep overhead costs down and patient throughput up, but they also have to give greater attention to the patient experience if they plan to obtain full reimbursement amounts.

To that end, many imaging centers are providing better pricing transparency, increased follow-up and follow-through with patients, and hiring professionals with strong customer service and team skills or providing the training to existing staff to get them those skills.

Cashing out, going under, or teaming up
Management issues were a common theme among several insiders interviewed. Mike Mabry, executive director of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA), says that according to a 2014 survey conducted by the group, of the estimated 2,500-plus freestanding imaging centers, about 525, or 21 percent, are either contemplating selling the business or closing, in large part due to the pains caused by reimbursement cuts.
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