Charlotte Radiology: Mark Jensen, COO

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For imaging expertise in North Carolina, people go to Charlotte Radiology, a private, independent company with 85 radiologists and 340 employees at 11 hospitals and approximately 25 freestanding centers. The practice began in 1967. Their hospital-based centers provide 24/7 coverage for everything from large Level I trauma centers to small, 24-bed regional centers. Outpatient imaging is also a main service line.

“The model is based on providing good, solid, bread-and-butter radiologists, but having subspecialists in Charlotte to read those cases that are more appropriate for a deeper level of expertise,” said Mark Jensen, chief operating officer.

Mammography is one of the company’s largest areas of expertise. Twelve breast centers including a new mobile unit make them one of the largest providers of mammography in the country. They have also recently opened a vein and vascular center in Concord, bringing the total number of clinics dedicated to deep-vein thrombosis, varicose-vein treatment and sclerotherapy to two. Other subspecialties include body, emergency, musculoskeletal, neuroradiology, nuclear medicine, pediatrics, interventional oncology, and interventional radiology.

Merging Technology and Information Technology

Radiology has always relied on maintaining top technology from an equipment standpoint.

“The challenge is to remain on top of the constantly changing world of information technology,” Jensen said. “Integration of the information and data from our equipment with the latest software and systems is critical to our success.”

Keeping the equipment current with new technology, while at the same time dealing with declining reimbursement is an ongoing challenge.

“With the general economy creating a lot of jobless patients, you’ve got the pressure of trying to collect money from people who are having difficulty paying,” he said. “And on the flip side, there is declining reimbursement where you are getting paid. It’s not that you are losing volume; it’s that you are losing reimbursement per study.”

Smart growth means finding increasingly innovative ways to improve efficiency and profitability. This means examining trends in healthcare and always looking for opportunities.

“Our team is constantly data mining and working to improve,” Jensen said. “As we see opportunities, we have to be responsive enough as an organization to take advantage of those opportunities.”

They are currently in the process of launching a new management service organization (MSO), for instance. In this way, they will share their expertise with other companies providing similar services. This will diversify their income stream, as well as drive down the company’s own expenses.

Another example of diversification is in the teleradiology service line. They will take advantage of the IT infrastructure that has been developed for Charlotte Radiology by offering those tools to other providers.

“By exporting our expertise in other markets, we create a good, win-win scenario,” Jensen said.

Going Mobile

Charlotte Radiology conducts approximately 75,000 mammography screenings each year. The new mobile breast unit will allow them to take their services into communities where early detection and screening services are not always easily accessible, as well as to employer groups whose employees have difficulty taking time off work to be screened. In addition to reaching an expected 5,000 women per year, it will help them determine which locations have enough volume to benefit from the addition of a standalone breast-imaging site. It is expected that health-care reform will require that insurance providers pay for routine mammography as a wellness benefit. The mobile unit will allow Charlotte to quickly capitalize on the expected increase in demand for mammography.

New Partnerships for Best Practices

The company has also been involved in the formation of a new entity called Strategic Radiology. This conglomeration of 15 radiology practices that are diverse in geography will be a forum for continuing dialogue to examine the shape of the industry and to explore ways in which Charlotte Radiology and similar groups might help with that shaping. The purpose will be to look at leadership in radiology, advocacy within the industry, and development of potential services or best-practice services that may be of interest to other groups in the future.

The Future of Radiology Practice

“There’s an uncertainty that all independent-physician practices are facing right now,” Jensen said.

If service integration is a goal and product of health-care reform, as expected, how do independent groups such as Charlotte Radiology work within that challenge while maintaining autonomy?

“Our group is focused on those challenges and opportunities,” Jensen said. “We want to ensure we remain a leader, shaping how reform happens and being successful.”

“As I look three to five years out, I think there is so much going on, and I think we’ll be part of a larger organization, whatever that may be,” Jensen added. “We’ll be figuring out how to work with less money, so there will be a lot of energy expended on innovation and efficiency. But I also think that radiology, if done right, can be a leader in terms of medical appropriateness. There is a lot of inappropriate use of healthcare, and radiology can be a value-added provider in terms of how that process unfolds over time.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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