Of Competitors and Superheroes

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An eerie presence had descended on Gotham, and ordinary imaging providers in and around New York were worried. Would their most at-risk patients continue to have access to the technology and early diagnoses that could save their lives, or would the pending imaging-reimbursement cuts decimate their practices, severely restricting funding for much-needed screening exams that have been proven effective in diagnosing early-stage cancers? As they pondered their fate—and that of their referring physicians and patients—these ordinary providers proved that extraordinary things can happen when individual focus is replaced by teamwork. They became superheroes.

In an almost unimaginable scenario, some 13 competing imaging providers in one of the fiercest markets in the country set aside their mistrust of one another to form an emergency coalition intended actually to do something for the profession. In the process, they have gained new respect for one another and from practices around the country. It was also a good business decision: If the proposed cuts in question can be beaten back, these practices will still have a playing field on which to resume their tussle for market share.

Pradeep Albert, MD, from Medical Arts Radiology, Bay Shore, New York; Richard Katz, MD, and Andrew Wuertele, COO, from East River Medical Imaging in Manhattan; and Annette Marinaccio, CEO of Nassau Radiologic Group, Garden City, New York, initially teamed up to form the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging (ECSCI). The group built a Web site, and launched a campaign to bring together politicians, patients, physicians, and staff to raise awareness and get signatures on a petition to save cancer imaging.

The grassroots nonprofit coalition grew to 13 centers, with a mission of getting enough signatures to protect vital cancer-screening services, especially mammography, CT, PET, and MRI. Since the formation of the group in July 2009, over 30,000 signatures have been gathered, and the group has gained national attention for this worthy cause. In the upcoming October/November issue of Radiology Business Journal, coalition spokesperson, Eric Schnipper, MD, partner, Nassau Radiologic Group, provides his first-person perspective on the coalition and the significant movement that it has created, culminating in an amazing demonstration on the steps of New York’s City Hall.

I have been prodding the imaging profession to do something like this for quite some time, and I am extremely proud of the work that ECSCI has done to break out of the handwringing stage and create a template that others around the country can use to great effect. I am also intrigued by the other business lessons to be learned here.

If fierce market competitors can set aside their differences when the greater good of the profession is at stake, what lessons could there be for radiology groups, hospitals, and outpatient organizations to build internal teamwork, and in this way improve the cultures of their respective organizations?

I have heard from so many practices that have battle lines drawn among and between partners. Others have open warfare being waged with their hospital partners. Still others have tension between the physicians and their own administrative support staff. It seems that not a day goes by that I don’t hear about the very real cultural issues facing imaging organizations today. Rather than focus on the threats from outside the organization, those that have internal problems become consumed with personal conflicts, politics, and downright hostility among stakeholders.

Let’s take a page from New York’s ECSCI and find ways to set aside the competitiveness and conflict, look outside the organization at the very real threats on the horizon, and align and rally the troops to fight for the greater good of the organization.

The alternative is that the regulators and payors will use such internal division to their advantage—and yours could be the practice that loses everything. We need some superheroes out there to jump in and do something.

Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle is publisher of imagingBiz.com and the Radiology Business Journal, and is CEO of imagingBiz, where he works with radiology groups on strategic planning issues, ckp@imagingbiz.com.