Strategic MRI Acquisition Grows Volume: Imaging Healthcare Specialists

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Glen YoshitakeWith 26 radiologists on staff and 11 locations in the San Diego, California, area, Imaging Healthcare Specialists (IHS) is the largest provider of outpatient imaging services in San Diego county; its reach extends into neighboring Riverside County as well. Like any busy radiology practice, IHS has a strong focus on MRI services, with 13 MRI systems spread over 10 locations. Glen Yoshitake, MRI manager for IHS, says, “We have seven high-field traditional 1.5T systems, a midfield open 0.7T system, and three low-field open 0.3T systems.” Last year, IHS added two high-field Oasis 1.2T MRI systems (Hitachi Medical Systems America, Inc, Twinsburg, Ohio) to its armamentarium, one at its downtown San Diego imaging center and another in its Oceanside location. “Both were replacement systems,” Yoshitake says. “Adding them was part of an action plan of replacing older, lower-field scanners with newer systems that offer more clinical capabilities.” Strategic Acquisition Yoshitake explains that IHS acquired its first Oasis system in May 2010 and installed it next to a conventional 1.5T MRI system in the practice’s downtown location. “The combination of the two technologies works extremely well,” he says. “It gives us the flexibility to be able to take care of all of our patients. If a patient is claustrophobic or otherwise unable to tolerate the traditional scanner and didn’t realize it in advance, we can move him or her over to the other scanner without any compromise in the image quality our physicians and patients are accustomed to seeing.” In relatively short order, IHS acquired a second Oasis system and installed it in its Oceanside location, over 35 miles from the downtown imaging center, in July 2010. “Now that we have the two Oasis systems, we have more flexibility in scheduling any patient, including those who are obese and claustrophobic,” Yoshitake says. Yoshitake adds that the decision to acquire and install the Oasis systems at these two locations was driven by an assessment of both patient demographics and geographical convenience. “Patient demographics are certainly the primary driver, but we also have a look at where our existing technology is,” he says. “The addition of a high-field open system would only enhance the services we’re able to offer and give us the opportunity for more growth.” Volume and Revenue Growth The ability to accommodate a wider array of patients has enabled IHS to grow its MRI volume since implementing the Oasis systems, Yoshitake says. In the case of patients who are claustrophobic, or those whose movement or size might interfere with image quality on a conventional scanner, “If you don’t have to repeat their exams, taking up another appointment time, you’ve obviously saved both time and money. You only get paid for one exam,” he says. “I’ve been involved with MRI for 25 years, and I’d say on the traditional scanners, up to 5% of patients will be claustrophobic. The Oasis offers us so much more flexibility—patients don’t feel as confined, so it’s much easier to tolerate. That absolutely translates into an increase in revenue.” At the two IHS locations with the Oasis system, Yoshitake estimates that MRI volume has nearly doubled in the year since the scanners were installed. “The Oasis allows us to maintain a very efficient workflow and gives us the flexibility to move patients between scanners as necessary,” he says. “If a patient shows up late, it’s easier to accommodate him or her.” Yoshitake says that scans that once took 45 minutes can now be as few as 10 or 15 minutes long, depending on the procedure. “We’re certainly able to do a lot more for our patients, in the way of obtaining images in a faster time frame,” he notes. “Where we were able to see eight patients a day before, now, we are routinely seeing 15, and sometimes, even 20.” New clinical techniques available on the Oasis systems have also translated into an increase in physician referrals to IHS, Yoshitake says. “The Oasis is excellent for noncontrast MR angiography, for those patients who are at risk of kidney failure,” he says. “For patients who have a hard time holding still, we can use the motion-compensation techniques. We also have other contrast-enhanced techniques, which are not available on the other scanners, for new ways of imaging the blood vessels. As a result, we’ve seen referral growth.” In the future, Yoshitake envisions using a mix of conventional 1.5T scanners and 1.2T open systems to maintain workflow efficiency while accommodating the maximum range of patients. “The Oasis offers a lot of nice efficiencies,” he concludes. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from the system, and I was pleasantly surprised. After seeing what it was capable of doing the first week, I was very impressed with both the image quality and what we were able to do clinically.” Cat Vasko is editor of and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.