Hospitals Retool for the Outpatient Imaging Market

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After watching outpatient-imaging centers siphon away their often-lucrative outpatient imaging services, hospitals in growing numbers are moving aggressively into surrounding communities to establish outpatient imaging center beachheads. The trend began heating up five years ago, according to Craig Anderson, Sr, founder of Charis Healthcare LLC, Hudson, Ohio, a company that specializes in helping hospitals and physicians accelerate services in the non-hospital outpatient environment.

“Hospitals are realizing that a large majority of the revenue is leaving the hospital campus—or at least leaving the walls of the hospital—for a couple of reasons,” Anderson reported. “Physicians are adopting and acquiring more technology that allows them to deliver services in their offices; entrepreneurs are coming into the marketplace and putting up services that are taking away business from the hospital; and patients really are demanding a more customer-focused, friendlier, easy-to-get-to set of delivery systems. In competitive markets this is becoming a battleground between hospitals and hospital systems to put up significant, comprehensive ambulatory care delivery systems. So the market is changing dramatically.”

This trend has spread well beyond the early adopters as both community hospitals and health care systems enter the market strategically (look for Part II of this article in the October issue of “The level of interest has grown precipitously, and the level of individuals is increasing,” Anderson noted. “So you are now seeing the COO—not just the CEO—realize they’ve got to figure out how to compete in this business or they’re going to lose it.”

Developing the Retail Mindset
Succeeding in the outpatient arena has required hospitals to learn a whole new set of operating principles in health care delivery, Anderson said. “Hospitals that win off of the hospital campus have an entirely different approach to designing processes, hiring people, managing people, incentivizing people, training people, and building delivery systems,” he said. “It’s a completely different approach to care, and as they have been learning that, we are starting to see a couple of best in class delivery models percolate up.”

A retail mindset is the first key competency, Anderson said. “If you think about what customers in any industry want, they want value, which is a high level of service for a reasonable price,” Anderson said. “They want customer accoutrements, they want to be cared for, they want to be appreciated, and they want it to be easy.”

Easy, as translated by Anderson for health care, means:

Easy access and good parking

Minimum waiting room time

Rapid delivery of results

“Now that sounds pretty simplistic and generic, and it is,” Anderson began. “But the next question that it gets to is, ‘What kind of people do you want in this organization?’ Typically, best-in-class providers of outpatient services have a very rigorous recruiting policy. So if a hospital builds an outpatient center, hospital employees can apply to work in those centers but they don’t automatically have the option to work in those centers. They have to meet the recruiting requirements, get hired, and then follow the performance appraisal system to function well in those outpatient settings.

“Typically, those centers have their own HR requirements, their own incentive-based compensation system, shared team goals, and incentive team goals, which are very hard to do in a hospital because of the complexity of so many service delivery groups within the hospital.”

Choosing the right center manager is key and also may require going outside the hospital management pool. Not only must this individual have a retail mindset with respect to customer service, but he or she also needs to understand the importance of the sales effort.

“There is a huge sales component, which doesn’t exist on the hospital side,” Anderson emphasized. “The hospitals frequently will have an individual or individuals who go out and call on doctor’s offices to talk about their services, but that is very different than a sales force in an ambulatory environment. You want to hire people typically from pharmaceutical firms who are trained in disciplines of selling to physicians and convincing physicians of the value of your services.”

Just as important as selling a center’s service is delivering on that service commitment, the linchpin in convincing referring physicians and their front