The Excellence Formula

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Radiology group practices can take the following seven steps to transform their practice models into something much closer to the ideal.

First, change before change becomes a necessity. Lawrence R. Muroff, MD, FACR, president and CEO of Imaging Consultants Inc in Tampa, Fla, says, “Strive to anticipate opportunities and then structure your group appropriately to take advantage of those. The same is true of problems: Anticipate them and structure yourself appropriately to deal with them.”

Second, enlarge. “Try to have the greatest possible geographic reach so as to offer the widest access to patients,” Muroff says. “This will give you more clout with third-party payors. Radiology groups prosper when the reimbursement per procedure is better. If you’re geographically big enough, you have a better chance of receiving appropriate payment.”

Third, diversify income sources. “Do not rely on just the revenues you receive from your hospital contracts,” Muroff says. “We’re in the midst of a near epidemic of hospital contract terminations. If that happens to you and there are not alternative income streams, your group cannot exist. Ways to diversify include having contracts with other hospitals; opening one or more imaging centers; using your technology assets to provide night-call coverage for smaller practices, specialty reads, and virtual locum tenens services; and giving expert testimony in courtrooms.”

Fourth, make clerical staff members feel that they have a stake in the success of the practice. Geoffrey Smith, MD, FACR, president of Casper Medical Imaging in Casper, Wyo, says that this is critical to ensuring that administrative employees collectively pull the oars with as much strength as possible, and also that they pull in the same direction at the same time. Inculcating the staff with a stakeholder mentality can be accomplished by, among other things, rewarding them with bonus pay for hitting productivity targets and by conducting team-development exercises.

Fifth, choose wisely. Smith says that it is easier to build a cohesive team of employees if one starts by hiring only top-quality people who, from the start, share management’s vision. “We look for individuals who are intelligent and conscientious,” he notes. “From an attitudinal perspective, we try to recruit those who are self-starters—those who are motivated to succeed and don’t need much coaxing.”

Sixth, say hello. Muroff believes that a practice’s growth or survival prospects improve when its radiologists make a habit of stepping into the exam room to introduce themselves to patients. “Tell the patient how delighted you are to have him or her with you today and that you are the doctor who will be reading the images about to be taken,” he recommends. “The ACR has done studies demonstrating that the majority of patients a radiologist interacts with have no idea that the radiologist is a physician. It’s hard to image radiologists being able to justify high rates of reimbursement when the general public doesn’t even believe radiologists are physicians. The public perception is that the radiologic technologist—or, more commonly, the referring physician—is the one who reads the images.”

Seventh, increase the knowledge and skill sets of all members of the group. “The more training the radiologists, the technologists, the administrators, and the support staff receive, the better equipped the practice is to provide excellent customer service,” Muroff says, “and service is the name of the game.”