Few would argue that one of the most impressive accomplishments of engineering, throughout history, has been the bridge. From the towering Golden Gate to the simple plank stretched across a stream, bridge design and construction are the essence of problem solving. Bridges exist for no other reason than to overcome the obstacle of a river, a valley, or a road, and to provide access to new possibilities for the traveler.
Building relationships between imaging providers and referring physicians is a lot like building a bridge. The best (and, often, the strongest) physician relationships are those built with a thorough understanding of the obstacles that must be overcome and a commitment to solve problems for mutual benefit. When those bridges are properly constructed, new opportunity abounds.
In beginning this activity, remember this: Not all bridge designs are created equal. The same holds true for physician relationships. Successful bridge design (like successful physician relationships) is dependent on how well the engineer identifies the size, shape, and magnitude of the obstacles. Bridge construction would be impossible without the benefit of engineering and design. Attempts at practice building without an understanding of the referring physician’s practice-specific imaging requirements and obstacles could have the same consequences.
Consciously or unconsciously, imaging providers are continuously building a physician-relationship bridge. Conscious, practice-building design will result in a relationship that can weather additional weight requirements and will prevent the unintentional buckling that can occur with everyday use.
Building the Bridge
Architects approach bridge design by first assessing the distance that must be traveled between the starting and destination points. Providers of imaging services must perform a similar evaluation. What (and how large) are the obstacles that might prevent building and maintaining a healthy referral relationship? There are absolutely no successful bridges that fall short of reaching from point A to point B. Too often, though, we (as practice bridge builders) fall short of our destination from lack of proper planning or failure to construct the necessary infrastructure to support a robust referral stream effectively.
Bridges are essentially classified as belonging to three categories: beam, arch, and suspension. Which one the builder chooses depends on the complexity of the task. All three have two essential elements: supporting piers and a roadway. Piers bear weight; they are foundational to roadway support. They are designed to distribute the stress and weight of the roadways uniformly. The greater the distance between the starting and destination points, the greater the structural design requirements.
Once the foundational pier system has been constructed, the roadway is added. Roadways span the distance from point to point, overcoming the obstacles that prompted the bridge’s construction in the first place. Roadways are designed based on the type and frequency of potential traffic.
There simply is no way to build a bridge without some kind of foundational pier system and a roadway taking you from one side to the other. As you build your physician bridge, begin with analysis of these critical elements. Be cautious not to create a one-way relationship where there is communication directed to the physician, but not back to your center. Without the necessary mechanisms and support structures in place to facilitate return communication, the relationship bridge will fail. A strong imaging center with a vibrant two-way communication roadway will be able to overcome any obstacle and support your message.
Before you approach a referring practice, identify and define the distance between your practice and your referring physician. What practice-specific imaging requirements are needed by the physician practice? What is the distance between the clinician’s request and your services? Does your referring physician need immediate access to your radiologist for consultation, same-day appointment scheduling, insurance-support and -verification services, and/or a consistent procedure for communicating critical results?
Does the referrer’s specialty require a specific technology or subspecialty interpretation? Have there been imaging-provider breakdowns that have created a greater distance? Are there staff dynamics that increase the slope of your bridge’s roadway? The answers