Enhancing Service to Referrers: Progressive Radiology Case Study
Progressive Radiology was facing a problem familiar to many radiology practices: Hospital IT policies were interfering with its ability to deliver images and reports to referrers. Dominic Mezzanotte is director of information systems at the practice, which has 10 locations in Maryland. “We struggled with some of our top referrers, who are part of a hospital that is very stringent and didn’t want us installing any applications. When you try to install an application on a large organization’s environment, you need it to sign off,” he says. To get around the problem, Progressive Radiology had been sending reports by fax and email—and, in some cases, even by courier. “Some referrers don’t even have email addresses,” Mezzanotte notes. “They’re busy with patients, and we have some who prefer not to use email.” Concerned that these inconveniences put the practice at risk that its referrers might take their business elsewhere, Mezzanotte and his team sought a solution that would enable them to deliver images and reports securely—in a timely, consistent fashion—in spite of the hospital IT issue. “We were looking for another option for referrers who are locked in under certain security limitations,” he says. Portal Requirements The practice had other requirements as well. Given the growing market penetration of smartphones and tablets, Mezzanotte and his team decided that the new solution needed to be Web-based (so it would be usable on mobile devices). “We were looking for solutions that were compatible with iPads and iPhones; our referrers had requested that we provide that compatibility,” he says. “As the iPad’s popularity has grown, thanks to its ease of use and how thin and mobile it is, we’re seeing a lot more of our referrers starting to use it.” Fortunately, an emerging solution was available to the practice: Its PACS provider, Intelerad Medical Systems, had recently rolled out a secure, Web-based referring-physician portal, InteleConnect. Mezzanotte saw the product demonstrated at the 2010 RSNA annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, and was impressed with its ease of use (another issue that the practice’s referrers had faced). “Training had been a problem for our referrers in the past,” he says. “One of the nice features with InteleConnect is that it lists the cases as they’re being completed, so the referring physician doesn’t have to search for them. They also had a difficult time remembering where to do certain things. With this product, it’s straightforward.” Progressive Radiology developed a quick-reference sheet with answers to common questions; Mezzanotte says, “We get very few calls at all, on anything.” The Web-based referring-physician portal offered an additional benefit: Because it is a zero-installation application, it was a low-cost alternative to extending PACS software licensing to referrers. “We were looking for the low overhead. You don’t need administrator rights to install any software. It’s a much easier product to roll out,” Mezzanotte says. Adoption and Feedback To encourage its referrers to try the new portal, Progressive Radiology sent a team of clinical liaisons (equipped with iPads) into the field to demonstrate the product’s security, mobility, and ease of use. “We’ve found it to be a very marketable application,” Mezzanotte says. “It’s very easy for our clinical liaisons to demonstrate the product. They go in and show how it’s done, and everyone thinks it’s amazing.” The practice took the additional step of developing a short, easy-to-remember URL for the portal. “We made it shorter for the ease of the referrers,” he says, and he would advise other practices to do the same: “Think about the URL you want to use and how to make it easy and memorable,” he adds. Mezzanotte estimates that around half of Progressive Radiology’s referrers have adopted the use of the portal since the practice went live with it, in August 2011. “I’ve actually heard of physicians taking iPads into the operating room and using InteleConnect,” he notes. “They know it’s not a DICOM image, but they use it as a reference.” Progressive Radiology’s clinical liaisons have also heard positive feedback on the application. One shared with Mezzanotte the story of an orthopedic surgeon who reviews cases at his children’s’ sporting events and family functions using the portal. “I’ve seen numerous reports where the clinical liaisons come back and tell us the referrers love this,” he says. “Some weren’t using our product before. Now, they’re going in and seeing the reports and images. It has absolutely helped attract more referrers.” Providing this level of service to referrers is critical to the practice, Mezzanotte says; in its market, the mobility of the InteleConnect solution is particularly differentiating, positioning Progressive Radiology well for the future. “A lot of referrers are looking for mobile, anytime/anywhere access,” he says. “I’m not sure if the competition has really met that demand. This is putting us ahead of the curve.” Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.