4 challenges facing radiology in 2014

As we enter the new year, the radiology industry can expect to face its fair share of challenges. Four, in particular, come to mind right away.

For starters, patient engagement will be a key concept heading into 2014. Patient engagement is one of the primary goals of Meaningful Use, as well as other health reform initiatives such as Accountable Care Organizations. In the case of Meaningful Use Stage 2, the focus on patient engagement is taken a step further with requirements that encourage the development of the patient as an active participant in their own care.

In addition, the change from a fee-for-service to a value-based payment system means that radiology practices have to rethink the way in which they engage with their patients, whether they're developing patient appointment reminder systems or coming up with better systems for delivering test results. The quality and effectiveness of these kinds of initiatives will only continue to grow in importance.

Implementation of the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision--more commonly known as ICD-10--also goes into effect Oct. 1 of this year. If your practice hasn't started training or preparing for the transition, it's time to start, since this will be a major undertaking and not simply a case of tweaking ICD-9. The transition will significantly expand the number of codes, meaning there will be a substantial increase in the specificity and documentation elements needed for proper coding.

There are plenty of resources available for procrastinators. The American College of Radiology has an ICD-10 Resources page on its website, while the Radiology Business Management Association offers a collection of resources in an ICD-10 Tool Kit designed to help prepare for a smooth transition. Radiology business managers also can look to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the American Health Information Management Association and other groups for further guidance.

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed, one of the arguments made in its favor was that the increase in the number of Americans covered by insurance meant more patients would enter the healthcare system and provide a revenue boost. However, with the well-publicized problems experienced by HealthCare.gov, there is a renewed debate about how many people will actually enroll in the system. In a recent article in ImagingBiz, Jeff Maze, director of business intelligence for a healthcare industry billing vendor, said that without that anticipated volume increase, radiology practices should expect to see their revenues decline.

Finally, there is no question that aspiring radiologists are concerned about what they perceive is a less than robust job market. In fact, the words "dismal" and "poor" have been used quite liberally in describing the situation. A recent survey published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology found that demand for radiologists was flat in 2013 compared to 2012, and should remain so though 2016.

Still, opportunities are present. There is an increasing demand for general radiologists, breast imagers, neuroradiologists, teleradiologists, women's imagers, chest imagers, MRI specialists and interventional neuroradiologists, and for those young radiologists who aren't anchored to a particular geographic location, most new employment activities will be in the South, according to the survey.

While patient engagement, ICD-10, the Affordable Care Act and imaging job market all will be top of mind for radiologists in 2014, there no doubt are other challenges on the horizon. So readers, what do you see as the biggest facing the industry this year? - Mike (@FierceHealthIT)

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