AHRA 2017: Q&A: President Jason Newmark on CDS, MACRA, Analytics and More
What: AHRA 2017When: July 9 - 12, 2017Where: Anaheim Convention CenterAnaheim, Calif. 

AHRA’s annual meeting was held in Nashville, Tenn., in 2016, but this year, it’s trading in cowboy boots and country music for sunshine and that cartoon mouse with the famous laugh. AHRA President Jason Newmark, CRA, took a break from making final preparations for AHRA 2017 in Anaheim, Calif., to speak about some of the biggest issues impacting both the present and future of radiology.

As you look over the radiology landscape in 2017, what do you think some of the biggest stories of the year have been so far? What subjects have you been paying extra close attention to this year?

First would be anything that has to do with clinical decision support (CDS) tools and this new legislation that, theoretically, everyone is supposed to have an automated CDS system up and running by January 2018. What’s interesting is that legislators haven’t finished nailing down all the details about exactly what is required. For example, the CDS system will provide a number that can go on a claim form, but they haven’t explained where that number goes on the claim and some of the other fine details about how all the data flows. We just completed a survey of AHRA members and received a couple hundred responses. The scary truth is that more than half of the respondents had not even started implementing their CDS systems. This is a hot topic for me. I think it’s a wonderful idea and the tool will assist with improving the appropriate use of imaging services, but it’s a logistical challenge when you start to implement these systems.

Another big story is the proposed reimbursement cuts for sites still using analog (surprisingly, there are still a lot of people printing film) and/or CR technology as of January 2018. The new legislation requires us to go from analog and/or CR to DR or face reimbursement penalties that will increase year over year. This creates an enormous challenge for organizations—especially those like mine, where we have a lot of equipment that is still CR. We will need to invest a tremendous amount of time, resources and capital to upgrade and/or replace this equipment or accept reduced reimbursement. It’s another one of those situations where legislators have an idea and try to promote enhanced quality of care, but I am not sure they understand the challenges this places on organizations, specifically around coming up with the capital.

Another big story is anything related to MACRA or MIPS with radiology. Again, it’s a great idea and I would much rather be measured on the true quality and value of the services we provide, but it creates a lot of question marks. What exactly does this legislation require? How do we pull and present necessary data? We’re trying to pay a lot of attention to this legislation and to collaborate with the American College of Radiology as closely as possible. We also have our own AHRA Regulatory Affairs Committee that is sharing information with our members about what the requirements of this legislation will mean on a day-to-day basis.

Data analytics in general is the last big topic that I’m watching and working with my teams on as much as possible. There’s so much data out there, and you hear a lot of vendors saying data, data, data, but what does that really mean? Just pulling together data is not enough—it has to be in a format that can truly be useful and should help us assess, enhance and promote the value of the services imaging provides to the overall care continuum. I think the magic bullet here will be when someone figures out how to collate and present this data into something truly useful.

What are some of the biggest issues or problems leaders in medical imaging face on a day-to-day basis?

I see two main issues. The biggest issue is that, for the first time in a long time, we are being challenged to promote the value of imaging. We don’t want to be commoditized—and I think a lot of patients and referrers assume, “Oh, I can get an X-ray here or an X-ray there, it doesn’t matter, every technologist and radiologist is the same.” I don’t want to say we are being taken for granted, but we have to be careful we don’t let that happen. We need to find a way to be much, much more involved with the care continuum; not just report generators. One of the biggest challenges is making sure people appreciate the true value of the services we provide: Who we are … the skills/knowledge required to perform exams … what we do … who we are doing it for… why we are doing it. We need to promote the core strengths and elements that we bring as imaging service providers to the overall continuum and coordination of care. What are those key, very specific metrics we can show that show we make a difference? Quality, safety, patient experience and value.

A second big issue for me, day to day, is the need to learn how to be a better leader. We have these phenomenally trained technical people who know how to run their department technically. But how do we provide these folks with the understanding, the training and the continued opportunity to know what’s going on throughout the industry and how to be a better leader of their staff? To be a manager/leader today, you have to be an expert in HR, finances, patient relations, driving operational and workflow efficiencies and understanding productivity metrics and benchmarks. You have to fight for capital, work across service lines and be an extremely strong communicator—and so much more. I feel like you have to wear 52 hats! So how do you do this well? I think that’s a challenge for a lot of managers today, trying to be everything for everybody. This is where an organization such as the AHRA can help—providing resources to members to enhance their leadership skills.

Fast forward 10 to 15 years into the future. What kind of impact do you see deep learning technologies and artificial intelligence having on the future of radiology?

I think, most of all, AI and new technologies will enhance the ability to standardize care. They create these algorithms that can take tremendous amounts of data and consistently put them into something we can actually look at and utilize for predictive analytics about populations and provide enhanced reporting capabilities. We generate and have so much data, and the key is to pull them together into a format that is actually useful, which can be extremely difficult.

I’ve read a lot about predictive analytics and it will help people learn to identify things differently and allow vendors to come up with better technologies. Maybe we won’t even need radiation in the future, who knows? Or maybe it’s something nobody has even thought of yet.

I know for my staff, the technical staff and the radiologists, they’re going to need to be retrained because analytics will have them seeing things they’ve never seen before. It’s like a whole new world has opened up. I think it’s going to be interesting, and it goes back to what I said before—where we really have to make sure we can present our value. The worst thing would be people thinking, “Oh, we don’t need you. You just push this button and provide a report.” That makes me a little nervous, and I sincerely believe you’ll still need someone there who understands the anatomical and clinical side and can make a connection with the patient while also connecting with the referring providers. Human touch still matters.

AHRA recently announced the launch of the AHRA Career Center. Can you tell me a bit about this new resource?

We’re trying to ensure we have offerings throughout the full spectrum of our members’ career paths. We have resources for folks who are going after their first management role and trying to still figure out which end is up. Or maybe they’re on that “rising star” level where they have more responsibility and are developing as leaders. The AHRA Career Center is about being able to put people in touch, networking about potential opportunities and providing tools and resources to be better leaders. We try to be that resource for the members and we try to respond to the members’ needs.

What can attendees expect from AHRA 2017 in Anaheim, Calif.? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about?

The annual meetings are what truly make the AHRA. I strongly believe this is where AHRA sets itself apart from other organizations—you’re going to go there and be around people just like you, people dealing with the same challenges. Everyone is very welcoming. People ask for your opinion, they interact between sessions, many of the sessions are interactive, and you’re really going to have a chance to roll up your sleeves and feel good about being a participant, not just a listener. It’s about networking, education, and fun!

We have a full slate of speakers and vendor exhibitors, so you have a chance to hear what is going on in the industry in a more specific manner. Most sessions are no more than an hour, so people can more easily stay engaged, and those that are a bit longer offer a deeper dive. They get more interactive. Since we rented out an entire hotel this year, anybody you interact with will very likely be an AHRA member or attendee, which is pretty cool. No matter what you’re doing, you’ll be surrounded by someone from the conference.

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The keynote speaker at AHRA 2017 is Chris Blackmore, and he will be speaking about the importance of customer service. What about Blackmore made him a good fit for this year’s conference? Why is customer service such a relevant topic for those within the medical imaging community?

What people like about Chris is that he’s not necessarily from healthcare, and he can come in with the perspective of one of our patients or someone from one of our communities.

Most importantly, he will be entertaining and use humor and magic to promote his message about making human connections and focusing on customer service: the core of what delivering healthcare is all about. These are topics we are confident should resonate with 99 percent of the people in attendance.

This customer service angle is so important because, more and more, people are talking about how the patient has a choice of where he or she receives care. So what can you do to differentiate yourself from the facility down the street and ensure patients choose your organization? To me, the answer is service and service delivery that is consistent. It’s like when you go to Disneyland or the Ritz; it’s just different. People provide that extra touch that takes you from, say, a 4 to a 5 in terms of the overall experience. So hopefully, Chris will provide great ideas that attendees can take home to share with their teams.