What role can radiology play in reducing healthcare costs?

A recent study in the journal Health Affairs clearly illustrates the price that the U.S. pays due to the high costs associated with healthcare. 

The study is based on a survey of more than 20,000 adults from 11 countries--including the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland--which found that 37 percent of American respondents often did not seek out recommended care or medical care when they were sick due to cost concern. This compared unfavorably to the other nations surveyed for the study. For example, just 4 percent of adults in the U.K. reported having the same kinds of issues.

While the fact that the U.S. has a healthcare cost problem is no secret, a survey like this drives home the effect costs can have on patient care. With that in mind, there are steps that healthcare organizations--and the radiologists working within those organizations--can take to provide high quality, yet cost-effective services.

One of the more visible efforts of radiologists focuses on imaging appropriateness. Embracing imaging appropriateness initiatives can help to ensure that imaging systems are always available for necessary studies and that patients have access to the right scans at the right times. Vijay Rao, M.D. radiology chair of Thomas Jefferson University, has written extensively on this topic, and suggests that radiologists make every effort to ensure that their hospitals adopt clinical decision systems tied to order entry.

At the hospital level, organizations are focusing on the concept of providing better patient care and improved safety at a lower cost. Radiologists certainly can do their part to ensure that happens. For example, as imaging experts, radiologists can be more efficient managers of equipment. They can standardize supplies and procedures, and assist with technology assessments, as well.

Effective management of radiology personnel can also help to reduce costs. For example, having technologists who are cross-trained in multiple modalities can reduce not only staffing needs, but on-call and overtime needs, as well. What's more, cross training can provide technologists with advancement possibilities.

It's important for radiologists to remember that working to contain costs is worthwhile on multiple fronts. Not only does it serve broader healthcare affordability goals, but it also demonstrates to hospitals that imaging professionals are true partners when it comes to such efforts. And with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the adoption of new payment models like accountable care organizations, anything that can be done to demonstrate added value by radiologists will help the profession in the long run. Mike (@FierceHealthIT)

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