Imaging’s Long Hot Summer Begins…

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There are impressive signs that outpatient imaging is beginning to coalesce in a real sense, moving from its initial stunned reaction to the DRA to a planned and coordinated sense of urgency that is reflective of a grown-up industry. Within the span of a recent one week period, the ACR and the NCQDIS both brought their activist constituents to Washington, D.C. in a well organized effort to gain legislative support for either repeal or a rollback of the 2007 implementation date. And it appears that the efforts gained some traction. This month’s legislative column features some new information reported from the scene in DC and reveals some of the most encouraging information on the subject in quite some time. But perhaps even more encouraging is the report on the grassroots efforts of one imaging provider in northern California not part of any organized lobbying effort, but simply trying to get busy and do something to control its own fate. The story of MD Imaging’s Amjad Rasheed, MD, based in Redding, California, and his letter writing campaign to that region’s congressman (who happens to be a member of the House Ways and Means Committee) should be an inspiration to others seeking ways to make their voices heard. Yet the tough work remains, and the outcome of these efforts is far from certain. This brings us to the long hot summer part. As industries and markets mature and their life cycles reveal either the fruits of infrastructure investment or the results of benign neglect, leaders emerge, weak competitors adding no value to the market disappear, and consolidation brings new demands and new opportunities. This summer of 2006 will be seen as a turning point in many respects for the outpatient imaging industry, currently in the throes of just such a shakeup. I am hearing of marginal imaging centers quickly trying to find someone to acquire their business, some radiologists questioning their tolerance for risk in staying in the outpatient arena, investments in technology deferred, and joint venture activity increasing. Conversely, I am also hearing about a renewed emphasis on the use of formal strategic planning for an uncertain future, increased levels of sound business practices within center operations, confident leaders talking about seeking out new opportunities for growth, and a view among many that as with DRGs, RBRVS, managed care, and other past crises, “this, too, shall pass.” However, before it does, there will be casualties, of that there is no uncertainty. And the best way to be among the survivors is to follow the lead of those who sacrificed some of their time recently to make the lobbying trips to DC, and those like Dr Rasheed and his colleagues who have taken their fight directly into the offices of those who can change this law. Get out there. Make something happen. Control your own destiny and then develop a sound business plan on what to do once you enter this new era as a survivor. The process will make you stronger. As our history has shown us, it will not be the last time that you will need to use these hardened skills.