10 trends to watch in diagnostic imaging

There are 10 trends that warrant leaders’ close attention, according to a new report from Vizient, published May 25.

The Irving, Texas-headquartered consultancy is forecasting double-digit volume growth in the field during the next decade, driven by both demand and advances in imaging technology. In particular, PET and CT are expected to see 15% growth by 2030, the firm reported.  

“To achieve organizational objectives in an ever-evolving landscape, imaging providers must develop strategies to meet increased demand for services,” Vizient experts advised. “Diagnostic imaging remains a cornerstone for high-quality patient care, and providers who plan well will be positioned to further advance their imaging offerings,” the authors added later.

Here is a quick rundown of the list. Radiology Business added the numbers, as Vizient did not rank each item in order of importance. You can find the full report for free here.

1. Workforce challenges: Over 85% of outpatient facilities and hospitals are facing staffing challenges. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor is anticipating a 10% uptick in demand for staffing across MRI, nuclear medicine, ultrasound, radiologic and cardiovascular technologists, and medical dosimetrists. Burnout, longer lead times for filing roles, and higher sign-on bonuses further complicate the process.

“To help alleviate challenges, administrators should review alternate workflow optimization solutions to address staff burnout and workforce staffing,” the report noted. “Healthcare organizations are using artificial intelligence and automation to improve technologist workflows, including reducing time-consuming tasks by improving image reconstruction with both AI and deep learning algorithms.”

2. Asset management: Post-pandemic economic conditions have increased the urgency of this issue. Both delayed capital purchases, along with heightened budgetary scrutiny, have left imaging providers with aging equipment and uncertainty about how to address their organizational needs.

“To solve for these challenges, providers should move beyond a reactive procurement process for imaging equipment to a more comprehensive vision of fleet management that aligns with organizational goals, without a myopic focus on emergent or high visibility equipment,” the authors advised. “To accomplish this, disparate and manual asset tracking systems need to be integrated into an all-inclusive dashboard that accurately tracks equipment and offers a seamless view into the insights needed for an asset management program.”

3. Artificial intelligence: The U.S. FDA has greenlit more than 500 AI-powered devices, with three-fourths of them in radiology and cardiology. Several also have scored an add-on payment designation from CMS. A thoughtful approach to assessing such solutions is warranted.

“Some providers are formulating evaluation frameworks to categorize and evaluate AI’s effectiveness in diagnostic imaging and to determine if an AI solution is beneficial enough to purchase,” Vizient noted. “Ultimately, providers, regulatory and legislative organizations and payors must align around AI use parameters and payment models to reap the most benefits,” the authors added later.

4. Reimbursement pressure: Scrutiny and downward pressure on imaging payments has “become the norm” for the specialty, amid CMS sequestration cuts and the drive toward appropriate use of radiology services.

“Provider, patient and industry organizations continue pressuring legislators to mitigate these reimbursement cuts,” the report noted. “In the future, providers should optimize service line offerings and commercial payer relationships to continue delivering high-quality imaging services.”

5. Intraoperative imaging: Vizient is forecasting a decrease in the ongoing shift toward outpatient surgical facilities, as “more intricate cases remain within hospitals.” This will require physicians to redesign inpatient care to “accommodate increasing complexity and comorbidities.” Hybrid ORs that incorporate ultrasound, MRI or CT are expected to grow in popularity.

“Smaller footprint imaging systems may make options like this feasible in previously inadequate areas. As providers begin to reshape inpatient care, bringing intraoperative imaging closer to the patient is an important consideration for quality care.”

6. Mergers and acquisitions: Deal volume has picked up in recent months, with Q4 hitting the highest number since the pandemic. The fragmented nature of the diagnostic imaging industry continues to leave it ripe for consolidation.

“With rural or urban providers representing 30% of sellers, cross-market transactions are also gaining traction as academic medical centers and integrated delivery networks expand geographically into community hospitals and outpatient imaging networks. As consolidation progresses, local market competition will increase as providers align scaled services around their region’s disease prevalence.”

7. Enterprise imaging partnerships: Radiology providers are seeking to move past episodic equipment purchases to more of a wholistic approach. Recent examples include St. Luke’s recent deal with GE Healthcare and CommonSpirit’s partnership with Siemens.

“By strategically partnering with a supplier, providers can optimize and simplify equipment life cycle management across multiple sites while achieving economies of scale for purchases spread over a designated timeline,” Vizient noted. “Strategic partnerships can also help alleviate staffing and productivity challenges by standardizing user interfaces and procedure protocols across multiple labor pools while bolstering vendor service support received.”

8. Cybersecurity:  Healthcare experiences the highest cost for data breaches by industry, IBM estimates. In one recent example, Raleigh Radiology experienced a ransomware attack that cost the practice more than $1 million.

“Cyberattacks can be especially crippling in the technology-dependent radiology department. It’s crucial for departmental stakeholders to understand their current information technology assets and software versions and have a plan to update platforms and replace outdated systems.”

9. Patient consumer innovation: Vizient consumer surveys have revealed that cost and quality are the most important factors for patients, more so than convenience. Care continuity and integration, along with personalization, also remain top-of-mind.

“Imaging providers can leverage integrated digital networks with health systems, referring providers and payers to meet patient expectations. Outpatient imaging consumers also anticipate a retail-like experience offering competitive options, excellent customer service and modern facilities.”

10. Theranostics: Following the FDA’s 2022 approval of Pluvicto, a new therapy for metastatic prostate cancer, diagnostic imaging providers are eyeing theranostics as a potential new service line. Doing so would help to increase service volumes for PET/CT and SPECT exams needed to stage and monitor the disease during treatment. Supply shortages of the drug, however, still remain an ongoing challenge.

“Increasing support for potential passage of the Facilitating Innovative Nuclear Diagnostics Act, [reintroduced in 2023], may also provide a boost to theranostics by supporting reimbursement for the diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals used in conjunction with theranostic treatment,” Vizient noted. “Providers should also monitor pending supply chain and legislative advances as they consider implementing theranostic services.”

Marty Stempniak

Marty Stempniak has covered healthcare since 2012, with his byline appearing in the American Hospital Association's member magazine, Modern Healthcare and McKnight's. Prior to that, he wrote about village government and local business for his hometown newspaper in Oak Park, Illinois. He won a Peter Lisagor and Gold EXCEL awards in 2017 for his coverage of the opioid epidemic. 

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