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How patients benefit from hospital and outpatient imaging partnerships


Outpatient imaging provides cost savings and convenience to patients while creating greater satisfaction for physicians

patient getting CT scan ©Tyler


Every health care stakeholder wants to achieve the highest possible quality without undue cost or complexity. Large hospitals and health care systems play an important role in health care delivery, not only for the services they provide to local communities, but also because they can be thought leaders and advocates for new advances in medicine.

Increasingly, large health care systems in the U.S. are partnering with outpatient imaging centers to deliver high-quality services—from simple X-Ray exams to sophisticated interventional radiology and AI-enabled imaging. These partnerships are crucial to the health care ecosystem. The majority of imaging procedures can be performed in most outpatient facilities, and many hospital partners understand how such partnerships can help them maximize their resources while enhancing the patient experience.

The hospital opportunity

Outpatient centers can provide both clinical and operational efficiencies that would be difficult for hospitals to achieve in a given specialty area. Certain outpatient practices have honed an extremely streamlined delivery model, using benchmarks and metrics for scheduling, resource allocation, and other operations. These and other optimizations can translate into greater patient satisfaction and more consistent outcomes.

When a hospital leverages an outpatient provider’s best practices, together they can help influence policy in that specialty area. In imaging, both parties can marshal their industry expertise and align their efforts to shape government legislation and ensure fair insurance reimbursement rates. Patients then benefit from improved policies. In fact, payers sometimes design insurance plans—co-payments, network participants, approvals, and reimbursement—to incentivize patients to choose outpatient care options. Carriers recognize the cost-benefit of outpatient imaging.

The physician perspective

Physicians also benefit from alignment of outpatient centers and hospitals. Referring physicians often report that the outpatient setting is more personal and service-oriented for their patients, and therefore preferable to an in-patient environment.

For example, radiologists who work in highly specialized outpatient centers can focus on their sub-specialty areas and forge collaborative relationships with patients and referring physicians. They can work as practice builders, function as part of the fabric of the treatment plan and collaborate with primary care physicians about diagnosis and clinical assessment.

A recent survey shows that radiology has one of the highest burnout rates among physician specialties. A strategic hospital and outpatient center partnership can create wider opportunities for radiologists and greater satisfaction for referring physicians. Radiologists in specialized outpatient centers can educate referring physicians on clinical indications, for example, and work with emerging technology such as artificial intelligence.

The patient experience

Patients are increasingly understood as consumers of health care, with all the expectations of retail consumers—quality, convenience, cost-effectiveness, and service. In health care, this means patients want convenient access to their medical appointments, high quality with transparent pricing, and a patient-centric focus.

Hospitals can extend their geographic reach by partnering with multi-site outpatient centers. When properly executed, care continuity is preserved even when patients visit other outpatient centers in the network. Patients can visit the site most convenient to their home or office. A hospital is a limited access point, which can make appointment scheduling difficult for a patient to manage. When patients find it easier to access imaging services, they are more involved in their care.

Patients, especially those with high-deductible health care plans, are increasingly conscious of health care costs. In an outpatient center, they can expect to pay 30% to 40% less than in a hospital setting. Patients want to know that they are receiving value for every health care dollar they spend.

A valuable partner

Employment in outpatient care centers is projected to grow by 35% by 2030. This indicates the important role that outpatient care will play, as in-patient facilities shift procedures to outpatient providers. That shift is supported by health care stakeholders because of the benefits it confers to the entire health care ecosystem. Outpatient imaging is a clear case in point. Everyone relies on imaging for proper diagnosis and treatment of disease—in other words, for value and better outcomes.

Victoria Bedel is the senior vice-president of northeast operations for RadNet, the largest network of free-standing outpatient imaging centers in the U.S.

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