Why What You Do Matters

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Newt Gingrich understands the true issue facing imaging today. In fact, after hearing him speak recently about why diagnostic imaging got “mugged” by the DRA, I am convinced more than ever that our profession’s leadership needs focus, new ideas, and momentum. It is a theme that I have written and spoken about at length. An example: After years of trying to get traction in Washington, DC, with a message about quality, or self referral, or the negative impact on the profession from reimbursement cuts, the former House Speaker’s analysis of imaging’s muddled message was clear and succinct. Congress and CMS, according to Gingrich, “don’t know why what you do matters.” We have not told our story effectively enough about the offsetting cost savings that diagnostic imaging brings to the health care equation. “What you need to do,” he said, “is explain clearly and uniformly (there’s the rub) why what you do matters.” Wow. We need everyone discussing medical imaging with the health care decision-makers in DC, (of whom Gingrich calculates there are really only a handful) to deliver the same consistent message about the benefits to the economics of health care inherent in diagnostic imaging. It seems so obvious, and makes so much sense, but for some reason has been so difficult to synthesize in a coherent and “sellable” message. What is sellable in Gingrich’s opinion? Early diagnoses, longer and more productive lives, offsetting the cost of more costly interventional procedures, etc. In other words, find a way to sell the benefits. Which brings up the part about finding leadership in new places: helping us all get on the same page so that we can all tell the same story. If we do not, we are likely to have more of the same disgraceful treatment in DC. Gingrich sees radiology as the low-hanging fruit for those looking to find money to move around for other federal programs, especially since we are divided in our message and in our interests. We (radiology) are the slowest gazelle chased by the fastest lion and we are going to continue to get devoured. This image provided in the keynote address has been fairly accurate in its portrayal of the state of our profession at the current moment. Gingrich was the keynote speaker at a remarkable symposium held in DC in late July that was the brain child of GE Healthcare, whose executives focused on helping outpatient imaging practices succeed in an increasingly complex market environment by assembling an all-star list of presenters. Others included SG2’s Michael Silver, and Harvard’s Regina Herzingler. The material was top-notch and the forum itself was emblematic of the type of leadership required to foster debate at the highest levels of our profession. So where will tomorrow’s leaders come from and how will they learn their skills? How can they synthesize all that is good about medical imaging and package it in a way that will persuade? Interestingly, not much mention has been made about the work that has been done behind the scenes by GE Healthcare and others to rally their considerable influence and direct it in the fight for fair treatment by the legislative decision makers. I was reminded of this in discussions that I had at the conference with GE’s Rob Kulis and Sean Burke, both of whom have personally been at the forefront of marshalling GE’s resources to come to the aid of radiology practices, imaging centers, and hospitals as they struggle to succeed in an often hostile arena. Their conference was a true demonstration of leadership where nearly 250 of the profession’s opinion leaders and imaging executives assembled for two days of intense sessions. In the same way and with the same attention to professional leadership, Hitachi Medical Systems’ Sheldon Schaffer and Susan Visconti were early supporters and remain active sponsors of NCQDIS. They have attended all of the meetings, sat on and guided various committees, worked diligently behind the scenes on the lobbying efforts, and in other ways generally supported giant efforts on behalf of an entire industry that require leadership and hard work. This has often gone unnoticed. The calculus in both of these examples is clear. They are committed to finding ways that they can help their customers win and succeed so that the profession as a whole will remain robust and vital. The bottom line is that these two manufacturers have stepped into the breach and done some very heavy lifting on behalf of every practice in the country, and I applaud their efforts. Both have fostered discussion about the most significant issues facing our business and each has been diligent about bringing new information to leaders grappling with the resulting complexities. After 25 years in this business, I have seen that it is easy to become jaded as buyers and sellers jockey for position, vested interests become entrenched, and the standard roles that we assume define us in ways that do not adequately reflect a depth of conviction and commitment to the greater good of our profession. Sometimes it takes an outsider such as Newt Gingrich to point out the obvious. Our confusing message to the DC holders of the health care purse strings has not served us well. We are seen as an easy target and will likely get whacked again, and soon—unless we can find a way to get our various medical imaging factions on the same page—aligned around the same important (and sellable) message—and persuasively communicate to the decision makers why what we do is important.