A recent article about the high rate of inappropriate imaging for patients who have headaches and are concerned about internal pathologic conditions caused a stir. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that around $1 billion each year is spent on neuroimaging for headaches, even though it’s not recommended per guidelines set by physician groups, including the American College of Radiology and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Studies like these raise a larger issue about talking to physicians about reducing unnecessary costs. Being a thorough, compassionate practitioner doesn’t have to include non-recommended testing.
As healthcare organizations are universally challenged to do more with less, every department is under scrutiny. Here are three tips for talking to your staff about reducing costs when it comes to enterprise medical imaging:
- Empower Your Staff. Regularly communicate with your staff about the importance of imaging appropriateness and following evidence-based guidelines. If patients are asking for testing that is not recommended per appropriateness criteria, they can politely, compassionately explain why at this time, such testing would not be either in the patient’s best interest or be following best practices. I realize that at times physicians practice defensive medicine because of the fear of medical malpractice. But in our attempts to rein in healthcare costs, there is a healthy middle ground between ordering whatever patients request and focusing only on costs.
A 2013 survey in JAMA found that 59 percent of physicians believe that doctors have some responsibility when it comes to controlling healthcare costs — so most of your practitioners are on board about their role in reducing costs. The same survey found that 56 percent of respondents believe that hospitals and health systems have a major responsibility in controlling healthcare costs. The two groups working together can identify ways to implement change and prevent unnecessary procedures.
- Offer Tools and Encourage Their Use. Provide practitioners with helpful tools, such as appropriateness criteria guidelines, patient handouts, electronic information that can be sent to patients’ mobile devices, or apps that can educate patients and help them feel in control of their health. Information should clearly outline the risks of tests and recommended alternative treatments that should be attempted prior to diagnostic imaging procedures.
- Encourage Teamwork. Controlling healthcare costs is going to take, as they say, a village. Patients need to know the risks and costs of pushing their physicians for costly, unnecessary testing. Physicians should be empowered to decline to give those tests.
Some organizations are creating new team-based models of healthcare, which bring together specialists, general practitioners and other staff to work together. These teams have a goal of preventing disease and critical care issues to improve patient care and reduce healthcare costs, including costs related to unnecessary diagnostic imaging and other testing.
Although discussions about reducing healthcare costs may not give us clear-cut answers, from these conversations organizations can pinpoint steps to reduce costs.
Patients who arrive at the office suffering and in pain want a remedy, but they also want to be heard and understood. Patients who are examined, listened to, and prescribed alternatives are likely to respond in a positive manner — especially if they’re given tools and feel engaged as a team member in their care. Physicians should emphasize to patients that unnecessary diagnostic testing exposes them to unneeded radiation and can potentially produce false positives.
Let your practitioners know about their role in reducing healthcare costs and give them the power, support and tools to do their part. That way, healthcare costs can be less of a headache for all of us.
In addition, bridging the gaps in communication between departments and providing a comprehensive view of healthcare workflow can help your organization reduce costs. Learn more about Qualitative Intelligence & Communication System (QICS) solutions that can also help you adhere to patient safety standards and manage continuous process improvements. Or see a McKesson solution consultant at booth #425 at SIIM, May 15-17.