Imaging Centers up their Image

I am a sucker for a good headline and a good story about PR. That is why yesterday’s Wall Street Journal  Time-tunnel-129-6-9-4 article Boosting Medical Scans’ Image caught my attention (it also doesn’t hurt that I have three radiologists in my family and I worked as a field service rep at GE Medical Systems early in my career).

It seems that imaging centers are working hard to add amenities and become more inviting places in advance of tougher accreditation rules coming in 2012 that might drive up costs. Also, manufacturers of these systems – like my old employer – are making the scanners more patient-friendly and less intimidating, such as this small handheld ultrasound device. While smaller devices like this handheld ultrasound may not produce brain images, it’s great for looking into heart health and pregnancy cases, and with it being so small, it would be perfect for making medical imaging accessible globally- including third world countries. The medical imaging industry really is coming on leaps and bounds.

According to the Journal:

Some hospitals are upgrading their imaging facilities, giving them a spa-like feel intended to help patients overcome fears they may have of the procedure. The Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Ga., has added amenities like separate dressing rooms. The women’s area offers warmed waffle-weave robes, household magazines and a waterfall. For men, the waiting room resembles a mountain lodge with dark teak wood, traditional robes, masculine colors and hunting and fishing magazines.

At some children’s hospitals, imaging machines are decorated in an outer space, jungle theme or a “pirate island” theme to represent an “adventure” for young patients getting a scan. Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital near Chicago even added Jeff Koons’s artwork to a CT machine and room. Some hospitals are buying Philips Electronics NV’s miniature “Kitten” scanner, which children can put a special toy through that activates a video about how the scanning process works.

This kind of reminded me of other types of establishments that became famous for turning otherwise hum drum experiences into entertainment events; theme restaurants like Rain Forest Cafe come to mind, as well as supermarkets like Stew Leonard’s here in the Northeast – they have petting zoos and talking cows in their dairy isles.

While I don’t know if people will go out of their way to get a scan for entertainment value anytime soon, it seems that these changes can be good for the business of medicine, good for patients and good for the image of the profession. The article relates the experiences of one imaging center, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital:

The new equipment and facility has meant 80 patients a day are now scanned at the new clinic, up from 45 at the old clinic on the same number of machines. She says the redesigned machines mean fewer patients need sedatives to help get through the scanning procedure.

I decided to get my older brother’s take; he is a radiologist, CEO at Hudson Valley Radiology Associates, and chairs various hospital and medical boards; in short, he knows the field well. 

Dr. Mark Geller said:Imaging centers are focusing on customer service and patient satisfaction in an effort to differentiate themselves in the marketplace from their competition and in anticipation of reimbursement regulations looming in the future tied to patient satisfaction.  It is good business, plain and simple.  All of this is good for patients and referring physicians.  The unfortunate part in all of this is the assumption that quality of care is the same everywhere.  That is simply not the case.  Making a care decision purely based on amenities may not be in the patient’s best interest.  My counsel would be to shop quality first (equipment, doctors, technical and support staff), and then, all things being equal thereafter, chose your provider based on service metrics and ambiance.”

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