At the risk of stating the obvious, accountable care organizations (ACOs), at their most fundamental level, are about accountability – holding member physicians, hospitals and other providers accountable for the quality and cost of the care they give their patients. After all, an ACO’s primary mission, when all is said and done, is to improve quality, reduce costs and increase efficiency by coordinating patients’ healthcare needs.
In fact, ACOs are the primary drivers in today’s value-based healthcare era of such growing trends as:
- Improved collaboration between care providers and referring physicians
- Up-to-date tracking and measuring of patient outcomes, care quality and financial performance
- Increased use of digital medical record-keeping
Smart healthcare leaders know they cannot afford to leave medical imaging out of the ACO equation. Images are key players to every healthcare specialty, and industry studies report clinical imaging as an overall $100 billion market industry. As a result, healthcare executives are implementing enterprise-wide imaging strategies that call for centralized image-storage and management, making images available at the point-of care and connecting them to a vast network of care providers.
By connecting images across the care continuum, ACOs stand to reap several key benefits, including:
Better, faster care collaboration
- Increased care collaboration and reduced duplicate testing
- Faster, more accurate diagnoses
- Easier compliance with HIPAA and other regulations
- Reduced overall costs of care
An enterprise-wide imaging strategy electronically connects all physicians within an organization to one another as well as with referring practices. Thus, consulting on a patient’s knee MRI, for example, can go from a time-consuming task involving hard-copy reports spanning several days to an instantaneous, real-time phone conversation between a radiologist and an orthopedist while they look at the same digital images in their respective offices.
Reduced duplicate testing
Through its use of a centralized vendor-neutral archive (VNA), an enterprise-wide medical imaging strategy also sharply reduces the need for repeat imaging – a major impact when one stops to consider that studies show that one-third of all medical imaging scans are unnecessary, and that some $26 billion is spent annually on redundant imaging. A recent study published in the JACR showed that where patients are transferred from one institution to another, duplicate scans can be reduced from approximately 30% to approximately 17%.
Easier compliance with state and federal regulations
As Meaningful Use, ICD-10 and other regulatory measures approach and take effect, ACOs are learning that an enterprise imaging strategy can make it easier and less expensive to comply with rules and regulations requiring them to provide for long-term image storage, as well as disaster backup and recovery of images.
With the regulations that will be implemented as part of Meaningful Use Stage 2 (MU2), imaging takes on a more prominent role. The new MU2 regulations cover electronic ordering of imaging procedures and access to the resulting reports and images via Certified EHR Technology by both physicians inside the ACO and referring practices affiliated with the ACO. With this change, it is important to implement solutions that take full advantage of the payments available under MU2.
Lower costs of care
The preceding benefits of a comprehensive imaging strategy ultimately combine to reduce costs, as efficiency goes up and wasteful practices such as redundant imaging are eliminated. Transitioning from department-level imaging solutions to enterprise-wide imaging solutions can yield substantial storage cost savings. Gartner reports that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a terabyte of storage for the top quartile of an enterprise is 57% less than the average cost of departmental storage. This demonstrates the economies of scale achievable when imaging is viewed as an enterprise solution versus a departmental activity.
So what do you think? Is an enterprise imaging strategy an inevitable initiative when dealing with ACOs?