The Stimulus offers genuine incentives for physicians, but getting your practice EHR-ready means an upfront investment of time and money.

Marianne Matthews

I went for my yearly mammogram recently and was pleasantly surprised when the radiologist came in and gave me my results. I don’t recall that happening in the past. Typically, I’d see the tech and get a call several days later from my own physician. The radiologist remained a mystery man or woman confined to a dark room somewhere.

Our cover story this issue is about MRI imaging centers and smart strategies for surviving the recession. One way to build business is to get closer to the patient. A little bit of face time can go a long way. Seems obvious, but traditionally, radiologists haven’t been all that adept at it. Lately, however, radiologists seem to be discovering the value – and the satisfaction – of interacting with patients.

Consider Metro Imaging, for example. With five imaging centers throughout the St. Louis area, the group has turned interfacing with patients into a unique selling point. Metro Imaging offers something they call OnSite Results. Essentially, patients get the preliminary findings of their imaging exams on the spot instead of waiting days or weeks to hear from their own physicians.

According to Metro Imaging’s website, “Our onsite radiologist will evaluate your exam and, in most cases, give you the peace of mind you so desperately seek. We will let you know your exam is ‘normal’ or shows ‘no remarkable abnormality.'”

The strategy is a smart marketing move because the OnSite Results program delivers precisely what patients want: immediate information about the state of their health. But beyond that, the approach is warm and friendly. It’s personal. It’s a way of getting closer to the patient. That, in turn, can build patient loyalty and future business.

But there are other benefits to face time with patients. One study suggests that radiologists seem to perform better when they feel closer to the patient. A group of radiologists at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem found that putting patient photos on files led to more thorough reports.

According to The New York Times (April 7, 2009), “The researchers found that the radiologists’ reports were significantly more thorough in all cases when a photograph was attached to a patient’s scan. Reports were longer, more recommendations made, summaries usually included and more incidental findings recorded.”

What’s more, the radiologists who participated in the study said that the photos helped them relate better to the patients and that they themselves felt “more like physicians.”

With the national spotlight on health care reform –and the many shortcomings of our system – it’s more important than ever to humanize the profession of radiology. It’s time to raise the profile of the radiologist as a valued member of the patient care team.

Here’s how one radiologist put it in a recent interview with Axis Imaging News:

“We must be wary of the commoditization of radiology,” Nazarian warned. “If you do an MRI of the knee, somebody in Australia can read that MRI in the information age. Radiologists must add value if they are going to thrive. One way to add value is patient interaction, and ultrasound is a perfect venue for this. You can’t outsource a hands-on ultrasound examination. You can’t outsource an ultrasound-guided injection, and you can’t outsource the ability to sit down with patients after the ultrasound and explain the findings.”

Marianne Matthews