The era of healthcare consolidation continues.
As noted by the Advisory Board, the Department of Health and Human Services recently came out with a landmark report that found, in a span ranging from 2016 to 2021, a whopping 350 hospitals experienced a change in ownership. These ownership changes were spurred by an unprecedented number of mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare space.
If you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance you have undergone a shift in ownership in the past five years or at some point in your career. We’ve worked with many customers who have seen their ownership change hands, and one of the biggest concerns among imaging professionals is what will happen to their departments and departmental processes when that happens.
After all, corporate purchases and mergers bring with them a new culture, new referral processes, and new best practices governing all sorts of operations.
When a merger or acquisition happens, clinical and executive leaders must come together to ensure that not only is the experience the most pleasant it can be for their teams, but that the new organization is united under a series of efficient, common-sense, patient-forward processes that staff can rally behind.
The longer there are discrepancies in how different departments and different facilities approach imaging, the more an organization will experience cultural whiplash, infighting, and inefficiencies that can reduce revenue opportunities and harm the patient experience.
Here are the 3 biggest challenges you’re likely to face, as well as potential solutions for uniting your team around a common cause.
One of the most challenging things you’ll face during a merger is uniting your teams around technology.
It’s not uncommon for facilities to rely on a variety of imaging vendors for the hardware and software that powers their applications and systems. But when those different departments and facilities are brought under the same umbrella, it becomes crucial to make sure everyone is on equal footing within a similar ecosystem.
If not, redundancies and outdated tech will remain a drag on revenue for a long time, and patient experience can differ greatly between facilities that are ostensibly under the same banner. You want a patient to have a standout experience in line with your core mission no matter where they visit or the tech used to carry out their care.
Start by generating a full accounting of the imaging assets that exist within each department and each facility. This would typically fall under the purview of the facilities manager, but he or she would likely solicit the help of imaging directors, who have a good idea of what systems are in place and where those systems are in their lifecycle.
Once you have a full accounting, you can begin to compare and contrast the data to find cost-savings and process improvements. If you notice, for instance, that two imaging centers each have an MRI getting close to the end of its lifecycle, or multiple departments are expressing an interest in updating their mammography or ultrasound stations, you can make these purchases all at once, simplifying the purchase process and getting every system on a standardized timeline. You may also find cost-savings by creating a service agreement that covers multiple sites and equipment, rather than those sites relying on one-off repairs that quickly add up.
There are many ways to approach the lengthy process of streamlining your technology, but they all start with a careful accounting of what you oversee as a result of the merger or acquisition. Once you have that, you can identify areas for potential improvement, not just in cost savings, but in processes that impact patients and staff.
Which leads directly into the next challenge…
Getting everyone on the same exact technology will take time. In fact, given budget constraints, differing service agreements and imaging equipment whose age could range from beginning to end of lifecycle, it could be years before you get every team on the same technology platform.
It’s also very unlikely, following a merger or acquisition, that the referral process is exactly the same between facilities. A rural imaging center may rely on emails or phone calls, while a busy research hospital may have an entire software application dedicated to acquiring and tracking referrals. The act of sending and reading images is also likely to differ between sites.
The good news is that, thanks to strides in interoperability and data sharing between systems, it’s possible to eliminate redundant operations without immediately switching every piece of hardware and software over to the exact same vendor or platform.
With the interplay between different software and processes, you need a system that accounts for technological idiosyncrasies and can share data nonetheless. This will likely be an API-based system that, in essence, swaps data between different formats, ensuring said data integrates between providers and systems.
Medicalis Workflow Orchestrator is a prime example of this type of technology. Vendor-agnostic, it acts as a neutral platform that transfers data between diagnostic viewers, dictation systems, PACS and EMR systems. This helps you establish one singular workflow that can be used by everyone who needs it, from rural hospitals to freestanding imaging centers to research hospitals and everything in between.
By creating a uniform process for your various imaging workflows, not to mention referral management, you can help ensure the patient experience is exactly where it needs to be, and your team will appreciate the clarity and precision brought to their efforts.
Disparate Levels of Regulatory Adherence (Namely, Appropriate Use Criteria)
Finally, it’s important to address the elephant in the room: Appropriate Use Criteria.
It’s true that CMS continues to push back the start date for the regulation, which requires facilities to rely on a Clinical Decision Support Mechanism (CDSM) when ordering imaging exams. The current date is now January 1, 2023, or the January 1 following the declared end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Which means, depending on the COVID trendline, it’s possible this could be pushed yet another year.
But. There remains the distinct possibility, and even likelihood, that the date will come sooner rather than later, at which point all affected institutions will need to meet the requirements (click here for more information on AUC mandates, including frequently asked questions).
If you’ve recently been involved in a merger or acquisition, it’s critical to conduct an audit of your facilities to see where they stand with Appropriate Use Criteria and Clinical Decision Support. Hopefully, by this time, all organizations within your scope will be well on the path to implementing this technology, but there will certainly be outliers.
Thankfully, there currently exist Clinical Decision Support Systems that are easy to roll out and intuitive for users. You can prioritize certain clinical areas or take an all-at-once approach. When used in connection with the workflow improvements mentioned above, it’s possible to embark on an organization-wide evolution that will help you meet the Appropriate Use Criteria, which will improve the experience for patients, the experience for staff, and your revenue possibilities.
M & A? NP
With the right mindset and a carefully cultivated strategy for unifying your facilities, tech, and processes, you can successfully flex the muscles of your recently expanded healthcare organization.
The tools are there. They only require a willingness to explore them and a purposeful yet creative approach to getting all teams and organizations on the same page.
Ready to take the leap at your organization? Contact us to learn more about Medicalis and how it can revolutionize your system-wide workflow. And for even more detailed information, view our on-demand webinar on the Medicare AUC Program!