14 October 2015

Three Management Strategies for an Effective Radiology Department

Radiology has been able to embrace the technological advances of the 21st century more rapidly than any other medical specialty. Thanks to innovations in telecommunications and radiology enterprise management (REM) software platforms, radiologists no longer need to be physically present within the same hospital as the patient to make an accurate an informed diagnosis. These innovations also enable physician teams to focus on other aspects of their practice including greater integration and subspecialization. This has led to a proliferation of strategies for hospitals and radiology groups managing growing departments on an increasingly tight budget.

Broadly, these strategies fall into three categories: a standards-based approach, strong enterprise-wide physician leadership and the utilization of comprehensive REM platforms. It is well understood that different hospitals have different needs, and hospital administrators must have the flexibility and necessary guidance to adopt a set of strategies that will best fit their needs. The highly fragmented and inconsistent nature of radiology in the United States today means that programs may take various forms, ranging from an entirely teleradiology-based practice to a fully-staffed enterprise-wide radiology teams (and everything in-between). By recognizing the uniqueness of radiology as a specialty and leveraging advanced technology, hospital executives can achieve their goals, while ensuring a consistent, effective model that allows for the delivery of high quality and cost-effective patient care.

Standards-Based Radiology

Currently, there is no universally adopted set of standards to define what an acceptable radiology program should look like. As a result, performance and quality may vary greatly from one facility to the next, even within the same health system. In an era of value-based, consumer driven care, this fragmented approach to radiology delivery is totally unacceptable. What is needed is a set of performance and quality standards that are hardwired for compliance, and agreed upon by all relevant healthcare stakeholders. Radiology practices possess the resources and technology to provide hospitals with 360 degrees of real-time feedback; however, this level of insight is relatively unheard of among top-level healthcare executives. Instead, such information is often buried beneath layers of cryptic data spanning several months, and lacking individual provider performance.

It is essential to the continued growth of our specialty to harness the capabilities made available through technological advances to standardize and sustain crucial measures of performance such as diagnostic accuracy and critical results communication compliance. These types of data are important not only for accountability reasons, but are required for healthcare leaders to make critical decisions impacting patient care on an informed basis. As radiology reimbursements continue to fall, providers and business leaders must accept a new reality: radiology is no longer the straight-A child hospitals once boasted of. To remain profitable, hospitals and radiology groups must break down all barriers affecting communication to achieve a model based on realistic and holistic standards.

Physician Leadership

While distributed radiology models take hold across the nation, radiology providers must continue to satisfy the need for strong, accessible physician leadership. It is important for medical staff to “know” their on-site radiology providers, as well as off-site subspecialists, in order for radiology to become a truly integrated practice. Additionally, on-site radiologists provide an invaluable service to staff physicians by interfacing with medical staff on key safety and quality initiatives, such as managing utilization of radiology resources. In addition, through frontline employee engagement, radiologists can employ proven lean workflow methodologies such as Kaizen to ensure all efforts are being made to continuously improve upon radiology department performance.

There is one aspect of radiology out of reach of telecommunications innovation: interventional radiology. Interventional radiology (IR) serves a well-defined patient population and, like other modalities, spans both inpatient as well as outpatient realms, meaning there are ample opportunities for growth internally and otherwise. These programs require strong leadership support and resources to continue growing due to interdepartmental conflict over IR’s expanding role and universal applicability.

The takeaway: There is no substitute for enterprise-wide physician leadership.

Radiology Enterprise Management Suite

To effectively make use of the aforementioned strategies, radiology practices must utilize comprehensive REM suites capable of managing all aspects of the practice including quality and performance analytics, scheduling, peer review and relevant patient information. These platforms must facilitate ease of communication while allowing hospitals and health systems to harness the collective expertise of the entire enterprise through a distributed subspecialist model.

Radiology enterprise management suites make use of the full complement of technological capabilities made available to radiology groups by hardwiring compliance and performance standards directly into the practice. This allows for improved quality and performance through automated double-blind peer review and standardized report structure – two challenges that plague radiology practices across the nation. Additionally, REM suites facilitate a cost-effective distributed model by eliminating costly management and workflow entities that would otherwise be required for the operation of a scalable subspecialist delivery model.

As value-based healthcare continues its drive toward better radiology at lower costs, radiology leaders and healthcare leaders alike must accept that fundamental change is required to remain viable among an increasingly competitive array of providers and systems. These three distinct options for radiology staffing and delivery – or any combination of the three – allow hospitals to customize a model that best fits their unique needs, and allows them to enjoy the maximum benefit of radiology’s technological transformation. If you are interested in learning more about how our radiology group helps hospital executives design and implement the right program for them, get in touch!