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5 lessons from the medical imaging industry


Because the imaging industry has been under a microscope for years, it's had to do more with less. There are many ways in which imaging can serve as a blueprint for other stakeholders as healthcare moves toward value-based care delivery models.

The imaging industry has been under a microscope for many years due to concerns about potential over-utilization, resulting in payment reduction every year for almost a decade. In response to that challenge, medical imaging practices have been doing more with less for longer than most other specialties. In fact, there are many ways in which imaging can serve as a blueprint for other stakeholders as healthcare moves toward value-based care delivery models.

Investing in new technologies that diminish barriers to image access across disparate systems, for instance, is one way imaging practices are attempting to reduce cost and improve patient care. The following are five other lessons that the rest of healthcare can learn from imaging:

Technology standards create efficiency

Imaging practices have long embraced advanced technology and standards as a way to optimize efficiency. Indeed, interoperability standards support and enable the imaging business model. 

Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) and vendor-neutral archives (VNAs), for example, are the two major technology standards that have provided imaging with enormous scale and reach. Standards and interoperability allow imaging centers to simplify the sharing of data, which in turn allows them to optimize service with faster turn-around times and more efficient communication.

Optimizing data access increases clinical value

The imaging industry also has learned to access patient histories quickly and efficiently. Using advanced technology tools such as Computer Aided Detection (CAD), radiologists can provide physicians with relevant data and the appropriate clinical context by identifying changes in an image. CAD tools compare two images and can identify important data points such as tumor size and progression and quickly spot clinical trends or disease progression.

The ability to store and fetch prior images is key to understanding patient history. From a clinical perspective, in many cases a current image has little value without the ability to compare it to the patient’s last image.

NEXT: The accountable care world requires consumer-oriented marketing


The accountable care world requires consumer-oriented marketing

Healthcare organizations are starting to feel the pricing pressures that accompany value-based purchasing, bundled payments and consolidation. At the same time, the advent of the price-conscious healthcare consumer means that patients will begin to shop for health insurance in almost the same way they compare coverage and price when purchasing automobile insurance.

Historically, consumer-oriented business development has been a major focus of the imaging industry. Imaging centers have a long tradition of continuously optimizing and innovating around service to increase patient engagement. As consumers in a value-based market increasingly demand convenience and affordability, imaging can serve as a role model for the future. In the rapidly emerging patient-focused and accountable care world, the medical imaging industry has established effective business and technology strategies that can be emulated by the broader healthcare market.

Competing in narrow networks

Providers of all specialties may soon find themselves having to adapt to bundled payments and revenue sharing within narrow networks. As bundled payments become more common, so will metrics for verifying positive outcomes. In a referral network, proving outcomes will force data transparency, which will in turn force the adoption of standards.

The ability to measure and evaluate outcomes accurately will be extremely important to participants in a referral network. Just as imaging professionals have learned to simplify data sharing and hone their business skills in building strong referral networks, this become a requirement for all healthcare organizations.

NEXT: Emerging issues in data life-cycle management


Emerging issues in data life-cycle management

Images are data intensive. As a result, the imaging industry was among the first to grapple with large-scale data management and the high cost of data storage. In many ways, imaging practices pioneered the ability to store, manage and provide web-based access to massive data sets in cloud-based archives.

With the rapid growth of patient data--and the expected explosion of patient-generated data--all healthcare organizations may have to examine similar data storage and management issues sooner than anticipated. As imaging builds technology strategies for long-term image life cycle management, it will likely provide a blueprint for the rest of healthcare.

The success of emerging value-based and accountable care delivery models will depend in large part on the ability to share and leverage data efficiently. Given the extremely high clinical value provided by medical imaging, the lessons it already has learned can help lead the way.

Payers and providers are beginning to collaborate to optimize imaging utilization as a quality metric. Therefore, in order to achieve quality objectives, the imaging industry is starting to leverage clinical decision support to ensure that all tests are clinically justified and authorized.

There is no question that patients are better served when imaging tests are ordered only as needed. Advanced imaging technology helps ensure that physicians can efficiently obtain and view the most viable images, thereby enhancing clinical value and increasing quality of care. While significant imaging utilization challenges remain, the roadmap is coming together.

Steve Tolle is chief strategy officer at Merge Healthcare.

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