Colorado Springs Radiologists: Invest in IT now, or lose your referrers later

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 - Douglas Gibson
Douglas Gibson, CEO Colorado Springs Radiologists/PENRAD Imaging

Right now, just about anyone with a large enough line of credit can purchase a new, state-of-the-art MR or CT scanner. Going forward, what will separate the highly successful radiology practices from those muddling through—or hanging on for dear life—is not impressive equipment.

The fact is, over the next three to five years, the decisive differentiator on this playing field will be the ability to sustain strong referrer relationships—stable partnerships built on trust and cemented by smart IT investments that allow radiology groups to not just understand their referrers’ challenges, but actually “get in there” and help solve them.

So says 30-year healthcare veteran Douglas Gibson. For the last three and a half years, he’s served as CEO of 21-radiologist Colorado Springs Radiologists/PENRAD Imaging, leading soup-to-nuts business operations for a four-site joint venture with Centura Health.

The practice also provides professional reads for two Centura hospitals, 364-bed Penrose Hospital and 158-bed St. Francis Medical Center, both in Colorado Springs. Through the joint venture, the partners will open a new outpatient-imaging center by the end of this year.

“The main thing we’re working on with our referrers right now is their EMR integration,” says Gibson, offering an example of hands-on collaboration. “When I look at what they’re involved with, and how we work with them in a large way, primarily it’s around their being able to attest for Meaningful Use incentive payments. This is a major focus for clinics in our area.”

Perpetual listening tour

It’s big, but it’s not the only item on the to-do list, Gibson adds. Referring physicians regularly need answers to questions they have regarding which studies to order, for instance, as well as guidance on intricate business issues they run into.

Indeed, in a healthcare economy marked by falling reimbursement and rising complexity, an open line of communications is essential, so a PENRAD provider-relations representative makes the rounds to referring docs every day. Gibson himself sits in on many of these sessions, plus he regularly meets with hospital C-suite leadership.

“There are inpatient insights that the hospital brings to us that we may not see on the outpatient side right away,” Gibson explains, “so we’re working together with them on a variety of programs at any one time.”

Currently in the works is a joint effort to install a physician assistant position to help with the hospital’s growing biopsy business. Up to now, duties in that service line have been taking away reading time from the radiologists. The commitment has proven time-intensive and low-reimbursement, Gibson says. But it’s also critical to the relationship.

“With our referring physicians as well as our hospital partners,” says Gibson, “everything comes down to trust and relationships.” Neither of these can be forged, built and reinforced by one-to-one meetings alone. Today’s referring physicians need more than strategic alliances: They need technology-enabled capabilities.

A flick of the RIS

Recently Colorado Springs Radiologists/PENRAD Imaging updated its RIS, and the improvements included beefing up its billing functionality and deepening the system’s integration with the group’s PACS—all with an eye on helping referring docs prepare for their near- and long-term future.

The group has been using FUJIFILM’s Synapse PACS/RIS, which incorporates Technology Partners’ IMAGINEradiology billing component, for several years. Gibson says he has found the combination elegantly simple and immediately advantageous to all parties. 

“When the patient comes to us for imaging, our technologist takes down the illness history and enters it into the RIS, which drops it directly into the template for the radiologist to see as he’s creating his report,” he explains. Just like that, “efficiency is greatly increased. The information gets sent directly over to our financials, and the report goes out electronically to the referring doctor’s EMR.”

Gibson itemizes several other features and capabilities the RIS upgrade has brought:

  • the capacity to automatically send patients appointment-scheduling messages, and follow up with appointment reminders, via text messages;
  • a mobile app, FUJIFILM’s zero-footprint Synapse Mobility, that allows referring offices to view images and reports wherever and whenever they like; and
  • the capability to have referring offices order exams electronically, directly out of their EMR. 

“The order comes