Consolidation and Commoditization in Medical Imaging

2012-01-03
 

Medical Imaging Tomorrow’s medical imaging practice will probably look much different from today’s. And it’s all because of economics.

That’s the conclusion of Eugene Lin, M.D., of the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle in a recent article in the American Journal of Roentgenology. The medical imaging field of today, with its variety of options for the new radiologist, will slowly disappear, predicts Lin.

Citing the probable rise of ACO’s and the ongoing effort to trim healthcare costs, Lin thinks that the following features will dominate the medical imaging market in 2020:

  • Fewer independent practices. Shrinking profit margins will force many small and independent practices to consolidate or get bought out by a larger practice. The trend will be amplified by the growth of teleradiology, which limits the need for medical imaging professionals in a particular location.
  • More large and hospitalbased practices. See above. Well-established hospital and large medical imaging practices will have the means to take advantage of the changing marketplace. They’ll also be under pressure to generate profits even as reimbursements shrink, so they’ll be eager to expand their volume and types of medical imaging services.
  • More volume – but not much more. Lin thinks that medical imaging services will be a frequent target of healthcare budget cutters..
  • More teleradiology. It enables medical imaging practices to drastically reduce travel and courier costs, expand their customer base, and free radiologists to work more from home.
  • More national competition. More teleradiology + a greater need to expand services = more practices reaching beyond – perhaps well beyond – their state borders.
  • Ongoing efforts to control costs. These may include strict prior authorization rules and lower reimbursement for medical imaging services.

Lin doesn’t say whether these changes are good or bad. Nor does he say they are certain. In fact, he reminds readers that predictions should be taken with a grain of salt by quoting Yogi Berra: “It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

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