How to Keep Your Hospital Radiology Contract

AuntMinnie | Radiology groups are losing hospital contracts in record numbers as imaging services have become increasingly commoditized — especially with the advent of  teleradiology, which gives groups a break from night call but also exposes them to the threat of replacement.

There are strategies, however, that radiologists can use to align their
practices more closely to the goals of the hospitals they serve, thus making
themselves less disposable, according to a presentation at the recent AHRA
meeting in Grapevine, TX.

Cordial, innovative, and mutually profitable relationships between
radiologists and their hospitals can be win-win situations for both parties, yet
they aren’t so easy to forge, said presenter Dr. Lawrence Muroff, CEO and
president of Imaging Consultants in Tampa, FL, and clinical professor of
radiology at both the University of Florida and University of South Florida
Colleges of Medicine.

“The essential conundrum is this: Most radiologists are, from their
perspective, extremely loyal to the hospitals they serve,” Muroff told session
attendees. “But on the other hand, hospitals have legitimate concerns about
coverage, quality, and service, and sometimes the views of each party on these
basic issues seem to be polar opposites.”

It doesn’t help that radiologists tend to believe a number of urban legends
that keep them vulnerable to being replaced, such as “they can’t replace us,”
“we’re a big group,” “there’s a radiologist shortage,” or “if we’re good
radiologists, nothing else matters; our contract will be safe,” according to

“At no time in my 35-plus years in radiology has there been a greater parting
of radiologists from their hospitals,” he said. “In some cases it is the
radiology group that chooses to leave, but in the overwhelming majority of cases
it is the hospital that terminates the radiology practice.”

Common complaints

What complaints do hospitals tend to have about radiologists? Unfortunately,
there are many, Muroff told session attendees:

  • Rude, condescending, and/or inappropriate behavior
  • Not being available when needed/when appropriate
  • Not being helpful to technologists (i.e., radiologists don’t know more about
    the study than the technologists — and in some cases, know much less)
  • Putting the technologists in difficult or professionally untenable
  • Not consulting or practice-building
  • Not educating referring physicians and/or technologists
  • Competing with the hospital; not aligning goals with those of the hospital
    or the department
  • Lack of empathy or compassion with patients
  • Inattention to specific medical issues and/or allergies of patients

So how can radiology groups shape up? A good place to begin is with a review
of the professional services agreement between the group and the hospital,
Muroff said.

“The starting point to solving issues [between radiology groups and
hospitals] is understanding the relationship of the group and the hospital in
the first place,” Muroff said. “That invariably means understanding the
professional services agreement between the hospital and the radiology

In about 80% to 85% of cases, radiologists work in a hospital under an
exclusive agreement, according to Muroff. This kind of contract gives
radiologists protection, via access to an efficient work environment and
reasonably predictable income, as well as the ability to optimize recruiting and
retaining of new staff. As for the hospital, an exclusive agreement provides
service to referring physicians, defined hours of coverage, theoretically fewer
complaints and problems, and ensured technical expertise — in other words,

“From a practical perspective, without the exclusive contractual arrangement,
there could be demoralizing chaos in a department,” Muroff said. “Such chaos is
costly, it impacts service and quality, and it detracts from the efficient and
effective operation of a successful radiology department.”

So what is covered under the professional services agreement?

  • Definition of radiology services and where they apply to the “exclusive”
  • Organizational status
  • How new services are allocated; how turf battles are resolved
  • Responsibilities of each party to the department: teaching, hours of
    coverage, types and numbers of radiologists on site
  • Length of term and means of termination
  • Clean sweep or not
  • Noncompete or not
  • Permissible charges; third-party payor obligations
  • Indemnification and insurance needs

Of course, each of these items provides opportunities for conflict, Muroff
said. Although exclusive contracts do clarify radiologists’ roles in hospital
departments, they can also erode incentive for appropriate communication or
alignment of goals and create mutual mistrust and, all too often, hostility
between the practice and the hospital administration. In essence, hospitals are
replacing their radiology groups because they can.

“These problems — and others — have led hospitals to strongly consider
replacing their incumbent practices,” he said. “Hospitals are tired of hearing
complaints about service or behavior issues from referring physicians. They
don’t like radiology groups competing with them, or they don’t like the
radiologists themselves and aren’t confident in their leadership capabilities.
And some groups just aren’t big enough to provide the 24/7 subspecialty
expertise hospitals want.”

Fighting back

What can radiology groups do to keep their contracts? First and foremost,
remember that radiology is a service specialty, Muroff said. Radiologists should
be part of the hospital’s strategic planning, and the hospital administrators
should understand the goals of their radiologists.

“A continuous dialogue should be occurring between radiologists, [hospital
administrators], and referring physicians,” he said.

Radiologists would do well to remember that most referring physicians would
rather get superior service from average radiologists than lousy service from
great radiologists, according to Muroff. Having a quality assurance/quality
improvement program in place before it is needed and working with (that is,
meeting with!) referring physicians to understand their needs and concerns is

The following are some key actions radiology groups can take to build long
and happy relationships with hospitals:

It all comes down to establishing presence, Muroff concluded.

“To maximize the opportunity for tenure in a hospital, radiology groups must
integrate themselves into the medical, political, and social structures of their
hospitals and their communities,” he said.


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