Michael Kulczycki

It’s 2010—a brand-new year. But when January 2012 arrives, accreditation will be a must for advanced imaging providers. Axis Imaging News recently spoke with Michael Kulczycki, Executive Director, Ambulatory Care Accreditation Program at The Joint Commission, about steps providers should be taking right now.

IE: Can you briefly summarize the CMS regulation that is planned for 2012?

Kulczycki: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has stated it will mandate accreditation for imaging centers that perform advanced imaging services. Specifically, suppliers furnishing the technical component of advanced diagnostic services must become accredited by a CMS-designated accrediting organization by January 1, 2012, for Medicare payment to be made under the physician fee schedule.

IE: What constitutes “advanced imaging?” Who exactly must be accredited by 2012?

Kulczycki: Providers of advanced modalities means those that offer MRI, CT, PET, and nuclear medicine imaging services to Medicare beneficiaries on an outpatient basis. Basically, that includes the majority of freestanding imaging centers because most provide at least one or more of those modalities. If they are not accredited by 2012, they won’t receive reimbursement for those services. Alternatively, providers that have been accredited by a “designated” accreditor prior to January 1, 2012, will not need to be reaccredited until the term of accreditation expires.

IE: So where should these diagnostic imaging centers turn for accreditation?

Kulczycki: By the time you publish this article, we’ll have an answer to that question. In January 2010, CMS will announce the organizations designated to accredit these providers. The Joint Commission is a long-standing accreditor for imaging services, so we expect to be among those that receive the designation. This January, your readers should start identifying which organizations have been designated by CMS, so they can begin to compare and contrast the different processes for accreditation.

IE: You’re urging imaging centers to take action now. Why make accreditation a priority when the regulation is 2 years away?

Kulczycki: Often, there is a tendency to wait until the last minute. However, the planning and the process take time. When 2012 comes and you’re not ready, you’ll lose out on reimbursement. And providers should also keep in mind that any CMS mandate tends to cascade down to private payors, too. From a business perspective, being prepared should be a priority.

IE: What specific steps should advanced imaging providers take right now?

Kulczycki: Centers should get familiar with the various processes of all the CMS-designated accreditors and also assess each accreditor’s approach to their standards. Accreditors have different approaches, so imaging centers need to educate themselves and select the right one for them. For example, at The Joint Commission, our strength is with freestanding imaging providers with multiple sites. We currently accredit more than 100 imaging organizations representing over 900 sites of care—both mobile sites and fixed imaging facilities. Also, imaging centers should network with other providers who have gone through the accreditation process and ask about the value they got out of the experience. At The Joint Commission, we make this easy. Providers can visit our special Web site called Quality Check at www.quality-check.org and identify imaging centers that have completed our accreditation process. We encourage them to choose a noncompetitor, call them, and learn about their experience.

IE: Are there are other reasons beyond the CMS 2012 regulation that should motivate diagnostic imaging centers to seek accreditation?

Kulczycki:: Absolutely. Joint Commission accreditation is viewed as a “gold seal of approval.” It gives an imaging center visibility and credibility with referral sources; it’s a sign of higher patient care and quality. Even the public is beginning to understand the meaning of accreditation and having it can be reassuring to patients. In addition, customers have told us that the accreditation process helps them from an operations standpoint—they’re able to identify gaps in how they do things and make improvements. Also, accreditation is a “selling point” when it comes to recruiting top talent—both technologists and radiologists.

IE: Today’s imaging centers are faced with major challenges concerning revenue and profitability. Is accreditation costly?

Kulczycki: We post our cost right on our Web site. It’s $9,045 for a 3-year accreditation period. Yes, it’s an investment. But the upside is that accreditation through The Joint Commission is a fixed price. Other accreditors, for example, base prices on a modality-specific model. So a multimodality facility may wind up paying more. I should also point out that The Joint Commission pricing includes an on-site survey, print and electronic copies of our standards, and a preliminary report letting the facility know how well they’ve complied. And the process is swift. Many of the imaging centers we work with attain accreditation within 30 to 60 days of their facility survey.

IE: Any final advice?

Kulczycki: If you haven’t already done it, 2010 is the year to make a promise to yourself and your business—accreditation will help keep you competitive.