Changing Imaging Vendors: Provider Engagement Is Key to Smooth Transitions

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When Baptist St. Anthony’s Health System (BSA), Amarillo, Texas, decided (in early 2012) to replace two of its MRI systems—one in an outpatient center and the other in the hospital—it faced the prospect of changing imaging-equipment vendors in at least one of the facilities, as each had a different vendor’s MRI unit. What the two systems had in common, however, was their age. Kristy Reynosa, director of diagnostic imaging at BSA, says, “The MRI we had in the hospital was pretty antiquated. We were turning away at least three or four patients a week because it was a closed system. If patients were claustrophobic, felt the magnet was too tight or too small, or preferred an open system, we couldn’t accommodate them. That prompted us to explore the option of an open magnet.” At Advanced Imaging Center, the hospital’s outpatient joint venture with the local radiology group (High Plains Radiological Association), the decision to upgrade the MRI system was based on similar factors. Greg Meek, RT, manager of the center, says, “We didn’t feel the old system was providing quality images, and we wanted to be able to provide services to all patients, from pediatric to geriatric to claustrophobic to bariatric patients. The Texas panhandle is a wide-open space. You can see from horizon to horizon in any direction; 30% of our patients are claustrophobic. The wider and bigger we can make things, the more inviting we’ll look to all patients.” Making the Switch BSA decided to replace both MRI systems in the same transaction, meaning that at least one of the facilities would need to manage a transition in vendors. Reynosa notes that her equipment-purchasing philosophy involves inviting all vendors to the table, every time. “I have always been a firm believer that you start fresh with every purchase,” she says. “Technology changes every year, so you need to see what everyone has to offer.” She says that from her team’s perspective, there was some hesitation when it came to working with new vendors. “Overall, there is hesitation when dealing with a vendor we are not familiar with, as our other three magnets are from a single vendor,” she says. “Myself, the physicians and the technologists were concerned about the ease of operating a new system and what kind of images would be produced.” To address the issue, Reynosa ensured that the technologists and radiologists would have a chance to experience the systems under consideration—and not just in vendor demonstrations. “We made sure that the people who had skin in the game, as far as operating the equipment went, got to experience using it at actual customer sites,” she says. “It came down to two vendors, and I said we were not going to make the decision based on hearsay: We were going to visit centers with both pieces of equipment to see what they really had to offer, not just what people were trying to sell to us.” In the end, the team at BSA settled on the Oasis 1.2T boreless MRI system from Hitachi Medical Systems America, Inc. “Hitachi sent me, with another technologist, to Cleveland, Ohio, to work on the Oasis for a day,” Meek recalls. “The other vendor just wanted to show us images; Hitachi let us sit down and scan on the system. Once I was able to see the images it produced, I had decided.” Impact of New Systems The new systems were installed in the summer of 2012, and their impact, since then, has exceeded the BSA team’s expectations. “We knew we were turning away patients, but the thing we didn’t know was how many physicians just weren’t scheduling with us,” Reynosa notes. “The big market that was untapped in Amarillo was the bariatric and/or larger patient population—many people who were of average size, but broad in the shoulders, couldn’t fit in our old system.” Now, she says, the hospital is seeing its MRI numbers grow. “There are patients who are willing to have MRI exams who weren’t before, such as people with the fear of being enclosed,” she says. “We see people finally having their MRI exams done because they know we have this option in town.” Meek concurs: “We combined two centers to increase our efficiency, added marketing, and put the magnet in at around the same time,” he says. “We’ve had about a 13% increase in patient volume since then. The Oasis has allowed us not to have to turn anyone away.” Meek adds that the service from Hitachi has been excellent. “We’ve had the Hitachi applications team on-site on three different occasions. Hitachi has called me and said, ‘We don’t have anywhere to send this person for a week; can he come to you?’” he says. “You don’t get that type of hands-on support from other vendors without paying for it. The applications team has really done wonders for us.” Reynosa says that the most critical takeaway from the process was leaving the decision up to the imagers—both technologists and radiologists—who would eventually be using the systems every day. “The most important thing is getting the people who are going to operate the equipment and the physicians who are going to interpret the images in a room, with their hands on the systems,” she says. “Seeing what they would be able to do with the Oasis was the big selling point. The people using the equipment should be the ones actually making the decision—that’s when you know you’re going to make the right choice for your patients.” Cat Vasko is editor of and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.