Building a successful new imaging center program

2002 09 17 15 26 51 706

By Elsa Ozuna-Richards

REA Healthcare Strategies

2002 09 17 15 26 51 706We are always looking for ways to integrate new services into the imaging center practice. In doing so, it is critical to follow a standard plan, or sequence of planning elements, to lay a solid foundation for each new project.

When adding a new MRI or PET scanner, for example, it helps to create a kind of "how to" manual to make implementation more efficient. It's not enough to have strategic planning that defines the vision and focus of an organization; each individual project must also have a strategic plan that provides vision, direction, and a standard by which success is measured.

Phase one: The critical questions

Key questions must be tackled before launching any large project, and a series of planning events must follow to facilitate a successful venture. Unfortunately, most imaging center administrators have several projects going on simultaneously, and once daily operational issues are considered, it can be difficult to give each project its proper due.

However, experience shows that if a project is not tackled properly, it will not reach its potential. The following questions must be answered right from the start to ensure that the planning, development, and implementation phases will move smoothly:

  • What is the new program and its proposed services?
  • Does the new program align itself with the company's overall philosophy?
  • What is the lifecycle of the new service or product?
  • What is the company's competitive position with the new product?
  • Will existing market strength support the new services, or will the company need to target a new market?
  • What are the financial and managerial demands of the new program?
  • Can existing staff or equipment resources be reallocated to support the new program?
  • If not, what is the availability of staffing resources?
  • Can funding be reallocated from the existing budget?
  • Does the company have the resources, both financial and human, to research the market’s need for the new product?
  • What type of managerial and operational structure will the program require?
  • Are there any legal or regulatory issues surrounding these services?
  • What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses with regard to the new program?

Phase two: Strategic and financial planning

Once the questions are answered and documented, key members of the planning team can begin to establish the goals and objectives of each new service. It's a good idea to have these members write a short narrative describing each objective so that members who join the development and implementation teams later can understand the goals clearly. The narrative, even if it's brief, can also help ensure that each assumption in the financial analysis is adequately understood. The financial model should be projected to five years.

Phase three: Market research

For small to medium-sized practices that do not have the advantage of a marketing department, the next level of planning may be problematic. Studying the market environment and appraising your competitive position takes time and research; finding the research time may prove overwhelming for an administrator.

There are many organizations that have information readily available. Local chambers of commerce, county health departments (that have performed demographic reports for their programs), and medical associations are excellent. Bookmark a list of resources that you can look up on the Internet or maintain a phone list of organizations that will provide useful information. You may also develop close relationships with payor groups. They may give you fair assessments of their client demographics, thereby providing valuable information for your research.

Capturing or maintaining a competitive edge will require answers to some important questions: Will your existing market strength support the new services, or will you need to target a new market? This information establishes the direction for the marketing analysis.

Say your practice has decided that it would like to purchase a new CT scanner and launch a program to perform coronary calcification screening procedures. The focus of the new program, then, might be to "sell" this test as a screening device to proactive, health-conscious individuals. The target market is not only the referring medical community, but also the general public.

The marketing analysis should encompass the entire community, and any surrounding areas from which the practice draws. The marketing campaign will focus on the needs of the community based on information from the analysis. Customizing the marketing program to a smaller target market, such as the business community, allows you more control over costs and feedback for future growth.

Consider additional issues: Will your service be the only game in town, or are there several other competitors that need to be considered when determining your marketing needs? If you are bringing a new product/service to the community, spending time on education will be necessary.

If there are other competitors, are your competitors meeting the market’s needs adequately? Are they perceived as the expert in providing these services? Is there increased demand for the services, thereby creating additional need for services? Can you expect to attract their target market without much effort?

Be honest with yourself during the evaluation process. The repercussions of moving forward because a single person is sold on an idea can be expensive.

Phase four: Program design

Designing the program is the fun part! Establish the key components for the organizational structure of the program. Begin to assign positions and job tasks. Identify the workflow and essential policies and procedure manuals that will be critical for a smooth operation.

Everything can be massaged as the program develops. Be flexible, and utilize key individuals who can contribute experience and leadership to the development and implementation phases. Conduct a meeting with the core leadership team to develop a flow chart outlining the overall picture of the new program. Have members of the team play "devil’s advocate" for every aspect of the workflow. A well-designed program responds to the "what ifs" before they actually occur.

Phase five: Training

This phase is very simple. Educate the staff about your new technology or program. It isn't necessary to keep them abreast of every detail through the analysis stage, but it is critical to begin informing them about your new services/program during the design phase. Those who will require training to implement the program should be trained early.

Work with your marketing staff or project management staff to conduct small orientation sessions for the rest of the employees to bring them up to speed. This will be valuable as you move into the implementation component of your newly developed program.

Phase six: Implementation

You're ready now. Take it slowly. Work closely with the vendor’s application department to properly schedule patients during implementation. Work closely with your schedulers to ascertain whether they are easily responding to questions and scheduling issues. Have a point person walking around answering any questions that the staff may have. Instruct staff members to document any operational glitches for process tweaking.

Above all, be flexible. There will be excited and nervous personnel members. Do not make quick and rash changes. Maintain a standard process for revising your procedures. This will save you much anguish!

Phase seven: A steady course

Be patient and work implementation details through with your staff. The goal is to have fun with the addition. Change is good! You will have radiologists and staff members sitting in your office trying to customize the new processes. With any new program, the best method of planning and implementation is to set a course true and straight. Do not complicate things by personalizing segments of each program for several individuals. Observe events and processes and revisit constantly with the staff implementers. Then keep your steady course, making gradual changes as necessary.

Good luck with your new venture!

By Elsa Ozuna-Richards
AuntMinnie.com contributing writer
October 8, 2002

REA Healthcare Strategies is a consulting firm focusing on healthcare marketing and practice management. It specializes in developing marketing programs for practices and vendors. REA has extensive experience in providing medical practices with strategic planning, project management, and customer-service training programs.

Related Reading

Imaging center marketing: Don't trade dollars for doughnuts, September 18, 2002

Performance metrics can help maximize investment returns, July 29, 2002

Revenue optimization, compliance assurance provide practice Rx, July 15, 2002

The strategic advantages of radiology networks, July 15, 2002

Marketing plan charts course to success for radiology group, June 5, 2002

Copyright © 2002 REA Healthcare Strategies

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