The Industrial-strength Imaging Executive

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Today’s medical-imaging profession is definitely not for the fragile and weak-kneed among our colleagues. It is becoming increasingly clear that navigating the constant changes and challenges that face the practice of radiology today will be the ultimate test of tenacity, perseverance, and creativity. We’re in the playoffs now, and the game is moving to the big-time arena—where the margin for error is nil. As in any aspect of world-class competition, the choices for those who intend to stay in the game for the long run will be dictated by their basic sets of skills, which will either prepare them for what’s to come or eliminate them in an early round. Washington’s legislators and regulators, regional payors, and state agencies all have imaging in their sights for targeted reimbursement cuts that will continue to drain the will of those unprepared to adjust to (and compensate for) lower per-exam revenue. All of the statistics point to a deluge of new demand for imaging exams on the horizon, but you can bet the farm on the fact that these will generate less revenue for practices and hospitals than has historically been the case. Yes, even hospitals, which currently seem immune from the onslaught, will feel the impact. How do you buff up your game? How can you become a lean and mean imaging machine that will be prepared to go the distance? In last month’s issue, I discussed the need to align the organization and knock down the silos while getting everyone on the same page. Assuming that hospital executives, radiologists, and imaging managers agree with that prerequisite, the next step in the process of strengthening your competitive profile is to build an organizational ethos with a mindset that embraces ongoing, frequent, and active communication among all of the stakeholders. This includes top-down as well as bottom-up communication. Clearly, communication is not a one-time event. It is a process. Too often, executives assume that everyone automatically gets it, and that the staffs of the organizations that they manage understand the challenges of doing business in this current environment. I mean, come on—the staff members see the numbers, the workload, and the competition encroaching a bit nearer each day. They see self-referral running rampant. Surely they understand that the business needs to be reinvented in order to compete, right? Maybe yes, maybe no; one thing is certain: They will not learn what they really need to know through osmosis or the gossip grapevine. They will not be able to connect the dots of the new game and be key team players in the championship unless you tell them and show them how. Imaging executives need to be coaches, and like the best coaches, they need to communicate constantly with their team members. If you think all of this is just social-science mumbo–jumbo (or the latest in trendy leadership theory), try a simple, inexpensive experiment within your organization. Send out a survey asking each staff member to respond to five quick-and-easy questions: 1. As a key member of the team, what is your understanding of the vision and mission of this organization? 2. What are the core values with which we operate? 3. What could the management here do to improve the organization and make it more successful? 4. What do you feel is the biggest threat to our future success? 5. How can we improve communication within the organization? The answers precipitated by these questions will reveal where your organization is aligned and where gaps exist between what you think, as a manager, and what the team members think—how they view the ethos and what they see as the pathway to success. My guess is that you will uncover a few significant surprises in these responses, mostly related to the fact that, generally speaking, team members do not always have a good understanding of where the organization is headed or how its leaders plan to succeed. The industrial-strength leader of tomorrow will need to be secure enough with himself or herself to listen to the staff; to be open to better ways of communicating, internally as well as externally; and to be a consistent champion of the vision, mission, and core values of the enterprise—living out those tenets in ways that will imprint on the team players. Game on: This is not a time for those averse to competing nose to nose. Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle is publisher of and the Radiology Business Journal, and is a 30-year veteran of the medical imaging industry. He facilitates strategic planning retreats for radiology groups.