Attention Radiologists: Get Ready for ACOs by Taking the Lead

2011-09-26
 

medical imaging, radiology and ACOsThe very mention of “ACOs” can cause tremors through the medical imaging community, but it’s time for radiologists and other medical imaging professionals to prepare to transition to an ACO care model, said Ascendian Health Care Consulting’s Jef Williams and Shawn McKenzie at the recent AHRA annual meeting.

The Accountable Care Organization or ACO is the creation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) passed in 2010. It’s designed to improve patient care and bring down (or at least control the growth of) medical costs by bringing several types of medical organizations together to meet specific performance targets. Payment will move away from a fee-for-service-based model and toward an outcome-based model, leading physicians and other healthcare professionals to be less “siloed” and more coordinated with other healthcare workers in their efforts to care for patients.

William and McKenzie noted that the final rules for ACO are not yet written, but the broad contours are clear enough for healthcare professionals – including those in the medical imaging field – to start getting ready for the following changes:

  • Streamlining information flow. “Participating in an ACO means getting rid of the re’s — re-ordering, re-scheduling, re-imaging and re-reading. The old days of re-imaging the patient will cost the organization,” Williams and McKenzie said. Being in an ACO will also entail sharing crucial imaging information with a number of other providers, so “interoperability” is a term that should be on radiologists minds as they consider new technology.
  • Working with other healthcare professionals. Because reimbursement will depend more on patient outcomes than on procedures, medical imaging professionals will have to communicate better with healthcare professionals who don’t have much radiology experience. Thus, they will also have to understand better than ever the role that medical imaging plays in patient care and be comfortable as consultants and not just as deliverers of imaging technology.
  • Understanding new models of governance. ACOs will be governed by boards that include providers, payors, and patients, and they may or may not be centered on hospital care. Radiology practices will have to consider the needs of goals of the entire ACO when making decisions for itself.

“Pioneer” ACOs will be up and running soon, and all eyes will be watching to see if they can deliver the hoped-for cost savings that politicians and others have promised. One thing seems to be clear, however: Radiologists and other medical imaging professionals will be moving more toward clinic-centered practice in the future, so the time to take the lead on changes demanded by ACOs is now.

Information from a recent article in HealthImaging.com was used in this post. To learn more about ACOs, see McKesson’s article, ACOs: Driving Providers Toward Quality vs. Quantity in Healthcare and white paper in McKesson’s Performance Strategies e-magazine.

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