As in any industry, the end result of imaging is a product, and Tariq Gill, MD, says that honing the quality of this product will be critical to radiology’s future. Gill is a radiologist and quality-assurance officer for Millennium Medical Imaging in Troy, New York. “In radiology, we don’t think of our activity as a product,” he observes. “We lack branding—but any practice that doesn’t have a brand will probably cease to exist.”
Gill says that it wasn’t always this way; he sees the recent regulatory focus on imaging, complete with constraints and cuts, as a boon to the profession, in many ways. “As much as it seems like an inconvenience, it brings radiology to the forefront,” he says. “We finally have some prestige as physicians, but there’s a price to pay for that as well.”
Many radiology practices still don’t think of themselves as businesses, although a business-minded approach will doubtless be critical to surviving imaging’s current, tempestuous environment, Gill notes.
To address this concern, Millennium Medical Imaging decided, two years ago, to operate on two levels: a boots-on-the-ground alpha group would be responsible for practice-building activities, while a bravo group would remain behind the scenes, providing Millennium Medical Imaging’s interpretations. “The boots on the ground are the relationship people, the community people; they have radiology-leadership skill sets, and they know the nuances of what their clients are looking for,” he says.
As for the bravo group, maximizing their productivity was critical—so Millennium Medical Imaging invested in reading stations where radiologists could work uninterrupted, delegating nonreading activities such as retrieving prior studies or tracking down referring physicians to clerical and administrative staff.
“Reading of cases has to be like widget making,” Gill says. “The whole process has to be as automated as possible. Your radiologists need to be able to make lots of widgets without having to jump through a lot of hoops. We standardize the way people do procedures, so we’re not burdening our hospitals to spend more money. We work very closely with them to make sure their resources are not squandered.”
Though the epithet seems unassuming, radiology’s widgets constitute its product, and that product needs to be optimized, branded, and promoted, Gill says. At Millennium Medical Imaging, “Our practice is very clear on the fact that our role goes beyond film reading,” he notes. “We don’t just make sure that our quality parameters are met—we have them in place, but the hospitals want a lot more. They expect their radiologists to maintain a physician-leadership profile in the community.”
To fulfill this expectation, Millennium Medical Imaging works with cancer-survivor groups, provides education seminars to the public, and even dispatches radiologists to a live radio call-in show where patients can have their questions answered on the air.
Millennium Medical Imaging’s branding extends to the interpretations that it outsources to its teleradiology provider, NightHawk Radiology Services, now part of vRad, which covers the shift lasting from midnight to 7 am for the group. “I don’t view it as an outsider,” Gill notes. “It’s an extension of my practice. It takes on the style of the practice I offer, and it uses our preferred report structure, so that every report that comes out of my practice has the same look. That’s my brand. NightHawk [now vRad] has an important role to play in helping to maintain it, and it does a tremendous job in providing that service.”
Gill advocates an aligned, partnership approach to hospital relationships—in which radiology groups not only provide the best product at a workable price, but also help protect the hospital’s best interests in innovative, value-added ways. “It has to be a strategic relationship,” he says. “That term is used a lot, and is poorly understood, but hospitals want partners that go out of their way to improve the relationship. We work very closely with our hospitals on coding issues. We work very closely for utilization review, minimizing expensive procedures that don’t add any benefit to patient outcomes. The hospitals don’t view us as mere contracted physicians—they realize our best interests our very comparable to theirs.”
To maintain and build upon these relationships in the future, Gill says, Millennium Medical Imaging will continue optimizing its productivity while working to make its radiologists