Can Radiology Practices Get Ahead of the Curve in 2014?

Greg Thomson

If you work in radiology group practice, it’s likely you are considering your market position and evaluating whether you should be growing—if you haven’t expanded already. Depth of subspecialization, round-the-clock service and economies of scale are all necessities for imaging in markets experiencing consolidation. In short, if your hospital and health system customers are increasing in size, you should be as well.
Consolidation is a very visible market change, but its effects may be more difficult to detect, which is why business intelligence is critical to radiology practices’ survival in this time of turmoil. Growth is a competitive necessity, but it must be fueled by increases in revenue. Where do those opportunities exist? And how can they be capitalized upon while maintaining, or even enhancing, service levels?
Most importantly, is it possible to get ahead of the curve—to be in a proactive, rather than reactive, position?
For a radiology industry beleaguered by eight years of reimbursement hit after reimbursement hit, this is the most exciting aspect of harnessing data through business intelligence: the idea that the future will become more, not less, predictable, that pre-DRA stability can be regained.
You’re likely familiar with some of the ways business intelligence is already helping practices increase their quality, efficiency and profitability. Many groups, for instance, already analyze their study volumes by hour to ensure they are leveraging teleradiology services in the most cost-effective manner, and that same body of data can be used for scheduling of radiologists as well as making hiring decisions.
Our practice managers are beginning to see even more innovative uses of business intelligence, however. With the historical collections data we are able to provide them, radiology practices can actually predict future cash flow with unparalleled accuracy, no small advantage in an era in which high-deductible health plans are driving patients to save high-cost procedures like imaging until the end of the year. Now more than ever, an understanding of cash flow on a more granular basis is vital to groups’ financial health.
Another example is analysis of insurance costs, an especially vital consideration for practices that, through accountable care, integrated delivery or other emerging payment mechanisms, find themselves taking on increased risk when it comes to total cost of episodes of care. By using business intelligence to identify risk areas where self-insurance or captive models would provide more effective means of risk management, practices can do more than insulate themselves against damaging financial fluctuations—they can actually provide helpful information back to the larger entity, cementing their position for the future.
In 2014, we expect the changes in the radiology group practice environment to continue apace. As expanding groups and new partnerships stake out footholds in their respective markets, they will be doing so with the confidence created by an unprecedented wealth of information. For the first time since 2005, radiology may just find itself better off than the year before.
Greg Thomson, CPA is an executive vice president with Zotec Partners.