Launching the MSO: Inside the Genesis of Canopy Partners

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Worth SaundersStephen WillisIn January 2011, Canopy Partners, a management-services organization (MSO), officially spun off from Greensboro Radiology in North Carolina. The large practice had been providing business, IT, and other nonclinical services to some of its partners and was working to diversify its offerings further. Worth Saunders, MHA, CEO of Canopy Partners, says, “We had a pretty good base of business under the Greensboro Radiology umbrella in IT expertise, PACS, voice recognition, workflow integration, and other solutions. We saw a great need to expand those offerings and thought a separate brand with an independent structure and governance would enable that growth.” Stephen Willis, CIO of Canopy Partners, explains that the newly formed MSO saw a particularly promising opportunity in the need for IT customization. “We understand, from a physician’s perspective, what the difference is between an integrated product and a well-integrated product,” he notes. “We see examples of integration that are theoretically integrated, but cumbersome for physicians to use. We do things in a unique way and integrate to a level we don’t typically see in this industry. It’s our goal for the technology to serve the individual, not the other way around.” Saunders breaks down the capabilities of Canopy Partners into two key offerings for clients: implementation services and integrated solutions. Both apply IT expertise to solve problems that remain difficult for many radiology organizations. “We take our expertise and use it to streamline IT, so radiologists and clinical personnel have the right information, at the right time, to deliver the best care and be the most efficient,” he says. Empowering the Radiologist Eric MansellEric Mansell, MD, PhD, who is president of Canopy Partners and Greensboro Radiology, delves more deeply into the integration needs that the MSO has identified. “From a radiologist’s perspective, we’ve been able to take all these different systems—PACS, voice recognition, electronic medical records, and hospital information systems—and integrate them in a way that moves the whole IT picture into the background,” he says. “As a radiologist, when you have a workflow that isn’t smooth, it distracts you from your job, which is image interpretation. You’re thinking about other things.” Seizing on the importance of integration, Canopy Partners structured itself to have minimal boundaries between its staff members, who include IT professionals, software developers, PACS administrators, project managers, in-house revenue-cycle managers, and more. “We have to have divisions and departments, but we really work hard not to have them be silos,” Willis notes. “Our departments interact with one another daily to find the best possible solutions for our client organizations’ problems.” Saunders notes that this internal integration is vital to providing the high level of service that is the goal of Canopy Partners. “Our culture has really been to understand the needs of the customer, and that started six to seven years ago with our work within Greensboro Radiology to improve radiology workflow through systems integration of PACS, voice recognition, revenue cycle management and so on,” he says. “It’s about understanding radiology’s needs, customizing solutions to meet those needs, and implementing those solutions in the best way.” As a result, Mansell says, quality and efficiency are improved for radiology organizations. “The IT does for me much of what I might have to do for myself, otherwise,” he says. “Anytime you can remove human responsibility from the equation, you’re in a better position for standardization and error elimination. There’s almost no way for a mistake to happen, which frees me, as a radiologist, to focus on the work at hand.” Empowering the Practice IT integration has other applications within the practice, and Canopy Partners is focused on meeting those needs as well. “On the general practice-management side of the equation, we can help solve problems ranging from credentialing to accounting to financial analysis,” Saunders says. “We’ve been providing revenue-cycle management and other types of management services for practices in our region for a number of years.” Saunders explains that consolidation in the radiology industry creates obstacles to effective decision making for practices. “Back in the day, when groups had eight or 10 physicians, everybody understood the same reality, in terms of what was going on with the group,” he says. “As practices grow, however—and become more disparate in terms of time, space, and coverage—this shared reality really breaks down; you can’t manage anecdotally anymore.” By helping practices with billing and revenue-cycle management, Canopy Partners is able to offer business analytics and business-intelligence services, Willis says. “It’s clear that radiology is starving for these capabilities,” he notes. “We’ve probably talked to 15 other radiology groups who see this as a black hole, right now. They don’t know how to make the best decisions on demand. We aim to give them meaty, purposeful and relevant information that they can use to make the right decision—based on data and predictive analysis, rather than what feels right at the moment.” Foundation for the Future Looking forward, Saunders sees radiology organizations’ needs in terms of integration and implementation continuing to grow. The third product in the Canopy Partners portfolio, a regional community PACS, fits that vision. “Out of the 12 hospitals Greensboro Radiology serves in central North Carolina and southern Virginia, Canopy Partners is the outsourced PACS provider for seven,” he notes. “It creates the opportunity for a regional timeline of imaging information that can be shared with different facilities and physicians, and it gives us the opportunity to mine the clinical data that come out of those reports.” Willis expands on the MSO’s vision for a community PACS that resembles a health information exchange. “We know that the majority of radiology information out there is unstructured,” he says. “You can tell what exam was done and how long it took, but not whether the report helped the patient get better. We’re trying to break down that wall. We use natural language processing on reports so we can run a query against that prior black hole quickly. Things like that make a big difference.” As US health care readies itself for emerging payment and delivery models, Willis says that delivering this kind of information to clients of Canopy Partners will help those clients succeed. “We’re being sure that the radiology group isn’t just generating a report with a bunch of maybes,” he says. “When radiologists can hold each other accountable for the creation of helpful and meaningful reports, they can truly help improve the health outcomes of the population.” Cat Vasko is editor of and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.