When hospitals and health systems look for ways to improve upon quality, safety and the overall patient experience – while also managing costs – they should look at their imaging department.  Here are a few reasons why the imaging department is a wealth of opportunity:

  • More than 80 percent of all hospital and health system visits include at least one imaging test.[i]
  • Estimates suggest that overall, hospitals and health systems spend $65 billion each year on imaging.[ii]
  • CMS is moving forward with site-neutral payments, potentially cutting reimbursements further.[iii]
  • Beginning on January 1, 2021, lack o reporting AUC consultation information will cause Medicare claims for imaging services to be denied.[iv]
  • Diagnostic imaging that uses computed radiography rather than direct digital image processing will be subject to a 7 percent payment reduction through 2022, which will increase to 10 percent in 2023.[v]

The importance of operational excellence for an imaging department

Operational excellence in a hospital or health system’s imaging department is an important goal for two reasons.

  1. A focus on operational excellence enables imaging departments to identify and eliminate wasted resources. Whether it’s wasted time, supplies, equipment, or staff, reducing waste is an effective way to improve the way an imaging department works.
  2. Operational excellence also has the dual effect of reducing cost while improving quality ultimately driving value. By devoting attention to operational excellence, imaging departments can start a virtuous cycle of efficiencies, ultimately providing better care. This gives patients confidence that they are being well taken care of, which improves their experience, and staff is proud to work in the department as well.

Aspects of imaging efficiency

There are two key aspects to which imaging departments should pay attention:

  1. Patient flow – an efficiently operating imaging department has a smooth patient flow that does not have bottlenecks or long wait times. Optimal patient flow creates a positive patient experience, and it also maximizes the department’s use of staff resources and equipment.
  2. Technical operations – a department’s efficiency is only as good as its equipment. An efficient imaging department minimizes equipment downtime and has high-functioning equipment.

Equally important is the relationship between efficiency and the department’s overall strategy. Operational efficiency initiatives must support the department’s strategic priorities to ensure that all team members are moving in the same direction.

As you begin to consider how your imaging department might benefit from operational improvements, it’s essential to take a holistic approach, from the provider’s order all the way through the radiologist’s final report. Your task is to maintain a balance between appropriate fiscal responsibility and excellent patient care. The most dangerous and expensive phrase is, “we’ve always done it that way”.


[i] Smith-Bindman, R, et al. “Use of Diagnostic Imaging Studies and Associated Radiation Exposure for Patients Enrolled in Large Integrated Health Care Systems, 1996-2010.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 13 June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22692172. 30.9 million imaging examinations (25.8 million person-years), reflecting 1.18 tests per person per year.

[ii] Healthcare, Definitive. “Healthcare Analytics & Provider Data | Definitive Healthcare.” Definitive Healthcare – Database of Hospitals & Healthcare Providers, www.definitivehc.com/. Imaging spend is estimated at 7% of total net patient revenue, which equals $65B.
[iii] Brady, Michael. “CMS Moves Forward with Site-Neutral Payments, Slashes 340B Payments.” Becker’s Hospital Review. https://www.modernhealthcare.com/payment/cms-moves-forward-site-neutral-payments-slashes-340b-payments
[iv] American College of Radiology. “CMS Releases Appropriate Use Criteria Fact Sheet for Referring Providers.” January 28, 2019. https://www.acr.org/Advocacy-and-Economics/Advocacy-News/Advocacy-News-Issues/In-the-February-2-2019-Issue/CMS-Releases-Appropriate-Use-Criteria-Fact-Sheet-for-Referring-Providers