March 21, 2002 --
U.S. teleradiology reading networks have a spotty history in the market. Due to fears of image study "poaching," some nationwide firms have had a difficult time overcoming resistance from local radiologists.
One firm taking a different approach to teleradiology overreading is NightHawk Radiology Services. This Coeur d'Alene, ID-based vendor is providing after-hours, emergency room coverage to radiology groups throughout the U.S. from a reading location in Sydney, Australia.
The shortage of radiologists and increasing numbers of imaging studies means that radiology groups are often hard-pressed to provide quality, round-the-clock coverage, said Dr. Paul Berger, NightHawk's president. Berger is a teleradiology veteran, having participated in a large southern California radiology group that provides 24-hour radiology coverage for its client hospitals.
Instead of marketing primary interpretation services and positioning itself as a competitor to local radiology groups, the company's target market is radiologists, Berger said.
"Our focus is to provide preliminary interpretations," he said. "The next day, the (radiologist client) reviews the report and creates the primary interpretation, and then bills and collects on their own. It's a very complementary service to the practice that they already have."
To provide a work environment suitable for long-term employee retention, NightHawk Radiology executives chose to set up reading operations in Australia. This allows radiologists to provide late-night coverage to U.S. customers, while having to work only during the day and early evening, said vice president Jon Berger.
American radiologists based in Australia currently staff the center, which has a pool of 15 radiologists to draw from. The Medical Board of New South Wales and the Medical Board of Western Australia have approved the firm to provide international teleradiology service. In the U.S., NightHawk Radiology makes sure its radiologists secure the appropriate state licenses and hospital credentials for their clients, Dr. Berger said.
After contracting with the company, a virtual private network (VPN) is set up to facilitate image transmission. It takes less than two minutes to transmit a CT head image to the Sydney site, Berger said. NightHawk can provide CT, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, and x-ray reading services.
While declining to specify the number of customers it has under contract, the company said it has clients in more than 20 states. Pricing is dependent on volume, and customers can often pay for the service by reallocating FTEs normally deployed for on-call emergency room coverage, Berger said.By Erik L. Ridley
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