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Imaging facilities can survive cuts to Medicare reimbursements

July 26, 2016
Benefits of DR technology
must be recognized
From the July 2016 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By: Tsuneo Imai

Since late last year, much of the chatter in the imaging industry has been centered on the reduction of Medicare payments to diagnostic imaging facilities using analog and computed radiography (CR) technologies. As many of us have heard by now, as per Section 502 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, enacted in December 2015, Medicare reimbursements will be reduced by 20 percent per year for providers submitting claims for analog X-ray studies beginning in 2017. From 2018 through 2022, payments for imaging tests performed on CR equipment will be reduced by seven percent with a 10 percent reduction beginning in 2023.

The passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act demonstrates that the federal government sees the benefits hospitals can realize by upgrading their X-ray equipment to digital radiography (DR). Thankfully, imaging facilities have control in how they upgrade, and radiologists have options to make the transition to DR a smooth one.

What to expect
The capital investment needed for facilities to convert their technology to DR, and potential disruptions to normal operations during the upgrade period, may explain why some medical centers have been hesitant to transition. While the legislation is expected to have a very small impact on analog X-ray reductions (as many offices that were previously using analog have already upgraded their imaging systems to DR or CR technologies) the reductions in CR payments could have a wider-ranging impact. According to IMV’s 2015 X-ray/DR/CR Market Outlook Report, more than 8,500 CR units are still in service in U.S. hospitals. And starting in 2018, these systems must be upgraded or the hospitals will experience reductions in their payments from Medicare.

Baby steps
Rather than upgrading a full exam room at once, imaging facilities can implement a “baby steps” approach, introducing DR equipment one step at a time to avoid a larger upfront cost. Upgrade kits can assist facilities in realizing the benefits of DR, helping to accelerate exams and boost patient satisfaction during this transition period. Tethered and wireless upgrade kits can provide a time-saving, low-dose method to generate high-resolution images. These kits transform these pre-existing systems into digital radiographic solutions for a diverse range of applications, including routine exams and trauma.

Some technology providers also offer digital detectors that work with existing installed X-ray generators or mobile generators and, as a result, do not require expensive CR readers and maintenance. These digital detectors can be transported from room to room and to multiple areas of the facility on a cart.

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