The Future of Nuclear Medical Imaging is Up in the Air


PACS, healthcare reform, supreme court Professionals in nuclear medical imaging want to plan for the future. But the uncertainties around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other prospective regulatory changes are not providing a clear path.

That was a big part of William VanDecker’s message to the attendees of this year’s American Society of Nuclear Cardiology meeting on September 9 (As summarized in an a September article in HealthImaging).  VanDecker is a Professor of Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia who specializes in cardiovascular imaging.

However, according to VanDecker, some future trends are clear:

  • The Fee-For-Service Model is Under Pressure, partly because of PPACA’s encouragement of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), and partly because Medicare faces budgetary challenges as the  population of retirees grows.
  • Medicare is unlikely to reverse its dramatic cuts in nuclear medical imaging reimbursement…for the same reasons described above.
  • The trend toward hospital-based medical imaging will likely remain.  The transfer of cardiology procedures from outpatient clinics to hospitals has been driven by a need to save money, says VanDecker. It’s cheaper, in other words, to conduct imaging at hospitals, which fuels  the volume of hospital-based imaging.

VanDecker spoke about how the future of medicine – and medical imaging – will be in models like the ACOs proposed by PPACA or other risk-sharing arrangements.  This means that cardiologists and other medical imaging professionals will have to work closely with other medical personnel to bundle episodes of care and incorporate electronic health records to meet meaningful use standards.

These trends provide some indication for nuclear medical imaging professionals planning for the future, but further regulatory guidance and the challenges of implementation leave room for uncertainty in preparing the right path.

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