Definitely the former, according to Dr. Gregory Goldstein, a radiologist and the founder of MetisMD: Not only do radiologists need to communicate better with referring physicians, they could also stand to boost their interactions with patients.
"A lot of people don't understand who radiologists are and what we do," Goldstein told AuntMinnie.com. "It's a challenge to educate and inform the public about the importance of our specialty since we typically don't interact with patients. So that's why we started our service, an online portal for patients to get a second opinion, direct from a radiologist."
Named for the Greek goddess of counsel and wisdom, MetisMD employs a staff of 19 radiologists from various specialties, all based in the U.S. and also working in traditional practices, Goldstein said.
Dr. Gregory Goldstein, MetisMD founder.
"Nothing is outsourced overseas," Goldstein said.
The company's PatientConnect service allows patients to create an account, upload their scan from a CD, and receive a second-opinion report from a MetisMD radiologist within 24 to 48 hours (rush service is also available, with a report provided in 12 hours for an extra fee).
Part of the report is an image quality score that assesses exam quality based on a five-point scale. The service costs $250 for an MRI, CT, or mammogram and $150 for an ultrasound or x-ray. The fee includes a free 15-minute phone consultation with the radiologist to discuss the findings, and a one-year subscription to CloudConnect, which allows patients to store radiology images on the company's cloud-based image archive.
MetisMD also offers ReportReview, a service in which staff radiologists clarify for patients the original radiology report (rather than offering a second opinion), and GlobalConnect, which provides translation services for radiology reports from scans all over the world. Finally, the company offers expert witness services for depositions and/or trial testimony, and detailed patient record reviews.
"Our service helps radiologists come out of their reading rooms and be more interactive," Goldstein said. "All of healthcare is evolving, and radiology has to evolve as well."
As part of the second-opinion process, MetisMD radiologists work to close the communication loop with patients' referring doctors, Goldstein said. Patients are required to provide MetisMD with their physician's name and contact information so that results can be communicated to the appropriate people, he said.
"If a patient refuses to give that information, then they are further required to agree to multiple terms/conditions regarding the second opinion -- which includes showing the report to their provider," Goldstein said. "If we find something we believe is a 'critical' finding, then we have strict policies and procedures regarding the reporting of critical results and document all the appropriate communication with patient and/or provider."
How have other radiologists reacted to the business model? Positively, Goldstein said.
"Most radiologists I talk to are very positive about what I'm doing," Goldstein said. "MetisMD isn't harming radiology practices. It's just offering a service for people to use for a second opinion if they have the means. I don't think it takes anything away from other types of practices."
But the slope toward commoditization can be slippery, according to Dr. Leonard Berlin, professor of radiology at Rush University and the University of Illinois.
"Any venture that is premised on selling a radiological service for a certain price contributes toward commoditization of radiology," he told AuntMinnie.com. "Initially, of course, MetisMD is offering a specific product -- a second-opinion overread -- and have priced it unilaterally. There is at this moment no competition. But I assume there will be competition very soon, and when there is, although a competitor may try to make a case that its team is better qualified than the MetisMD team, in reality the only distinction that will count is price. And when a radiologist goes public saying 'I am a radiologist; I will sell my service for a price,' that radiologist becomes a commodity."