Putting Patients First: How Imaging Technology Augments Satisfaction
Thomas NagelliOrthopedic practices are no strangers to pursuing optimum patient satisfaction with imaging as part of a growth strategy; in fact, their growth is often dependent on it. Dale Ingram, CEO of the Cardinal Orthopaedic Institute (COI), Columbus, Ohio, says, “Of our MRI patients, 98% came from within our practice—we get very few patients from outside referrals. Imaging plays a big role in whether patients are satisfied with our service. They don’t have to go somewhere else and re-register, and it also helps with their continuity of care—our radiologists are here in the building and can talk to our physicians at any time. Every aspect of the process is easier for patients.” Thomas Nagelli, director of MRI services for Illinois Bone & Joint Institute (IBJI) in Des Plaines, adds that on-site imaging can save patients money over going to a hospital, further enhancing patient satisfaction. “Patients often save $500 to $1,000 when they use clinical settings like ours for their imaging needs,” he notes. “It is also a convenience to the patient. Most of the time, our staff can obtain the insurance pre-certifications and verifications while the patients go through our easy registration process. In this way, we save them the hassle of coming back a second time for their appointment, thereby saving them both time and money. At a hospital, they may wait up to two weeks for their appointments; here, we give a diagnosis within forty-eight hours.” Nagelli continues, “For patients, as I know from my own past experiences, anxiety continues if diagnostic testing is delayed or tests are not diagnosed fast enough. Having imaging accessible and conveniently located will help them to have their diagnosis as quickly as possible. Our priority is getting patients their treatment quickly.” What Patients Need Now Dave Wold, COO of IBJI, observes that providers ignore patients’ schedules at their peril. “IBJI was one of the first orthopedic practices in the Chicago area to bring an MRI system into a practice, 12 or 13 years ago,” he recalls. “I remember thinking it was a huge investment and spending a lot of time trying to determine how many patients we’d need to scan to break even.” Wold was surprised by how much patients loved the convenience of being imaged on-site. “They don’t have to worry about scheduling another appointment and taking yet another afternoon off work,” he says. “We had never realized how big an issue it was. It really complemented and enhanced our service.” For the same reason, Southern Bone and Joint Specialists (SBJS), Hattiesburg, Mississippi, an orthopedic practice, offers unusual hours for a physician group: 7 am to midnight, Monday through Saturday. Leigh Ann Underwood, director of business development, says, “We serve 71,000 patients annually. We see so many MRI patients because we have flexible hours. Many of our patients are appreciative that they can come in before or after work.” To stay on top of evolving needs, COI routinely surveys its patients to identify opportunities for improvement. “We take their feedback very seriously,” Ingram says. “We keep the patients informed, which helps a lot. We have to remember that the patients’ perspective and experience with our practice are very different from our own.” Technology for Today’s Patient One issue identified by COI’s patient-satisfaction surveys is waiting time. The practice has found that communicating transparently with patients makes a difference. “Keeping patients informed helps a lot,” Ingram says. “Letting them know the physician is running behind is better than making them sit for an hour without knowing why.” Technology also plays a role in keeping waiting times down, which is why having a system that allows for rapid throughput is important. In November 2009, COI implemented a new Echelon MRI from Hitachi Medical Systems. “The radiology group we work with had experience with this model at another facility, and they were very happy with the images,” Ingram says. Accommodating as many patients as possible is important to maintaining convenience, so the system’s short bore was a major asset. “We need very versatile equipment,” he says. “Once patients see this system, they know the imaging is not going to be as bad as they thought, and the system is also fast: Patients get through their scans quickly.” SBJS had similar needs in mind when it implemented the Hitachi Oasis boreless MRI system in 2011. “The primary driving forces were the quality of the image, the open structure for the comfort of the patient, and cost—being able to provide a cost-effective alternative in this region,” Underwood says. At IBJI, which has two Oasis boreless MRI systems, the primary consideration in selecting the systems was patient comfort. “The general patient population is more comfortable in an open system,” Nagelli says. “We have learned that anxious patients find IBJI's MRI process much simpler than going into a hospital, wading through a long registration and scheduling process, and possibly being administered a medication or sedation to calm them down and reduce their anxiety. They are more comfortable coming to us.” Wold adds, “When you listen to the patients and understand how many of them struggle with a closed magnet, you can feel proud offering something the patients have been asking for; when you factor in the quality of the image, implementing this system was one of the easiest decisions we’ve made.” He notes that IBJI picked up some of its customer-service philosophy from the outpatient imaging market, where most of the same lessons apply. “The most successful diagnostic-imaging centers have always been those that provide phenomenal service,” he says. “It’s a simple philosophy, but it works: Listen to and respect your patients, and commit to their satisfaction.” Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.