Q&A: Imaging Technology and Making Safety and Quality a Priority in C-suite Agendas

By John Palmer

Editor’s note: Austin O’Connell is head of quality and regulatory, diagnostic imaging for Philips Healthcare. In this Q&A, he discusses the newest imaging technology, as well as how hospitals create a value proposition for safety and quality that resonates on the floor of the radiology department and in the boardroom.

Q: Can you tell me about the imaging products that are becoming available on the market? How has demand been responding?

Austin O’Connell: We see strong demand for solutions that are more patient-centered in terms of not only comfort and ease but in delivering, safe, effective, and expedient imaging solutions. To this end, we are pursuing advancements aimed at making imaging exams safer, more comfortable, and in some cases faster for patients. These technologies are enabling more people to be able to tolerate the requirements of imaging exams or gain access to imaging scans by reducing limitations.

For example, Philips’ breakthrough Compressed SENSE technology reduces the time it takes for an MRI study, making it easier for patients who are challenged by MR scans due to pain or claustrophobia. Similarly, Philips’ Vereos digital PET/CT enables faster scans with less discomfort for patients. Philips’ ScanWise Implant technology improves access to MRIs for patients with MRI conditional implants who previously could not get them. Additionally, Philips’ IQon Spectral CT technology delivers groundbreaking image quality solutions and rich quantifiable data to support a confident diagnosis on every scan—making the first exam the right exam. All of these innovations aim to shorten the path to a definitive diagnosis, which ultimately delivers value to patients as well as providers and health systems.

Q: How can hospitals make a strong business case for patient safety?

AO: Naturally, to make a strong business case there must be both clinical and financial data supporting initiatives. In addition, everyone knows that patient safety and product quality is important; but what is just as important is to understand that both a patient safety and product quality focus has a positive impact on increasing the ability to service patients more efficiently through the hospital care process, whilst reducing cost and improving the overall patient experience. The best way is really to engage all the stakeholders within the hospital, share insights, leverage expertise across departments, and create a common goal that everyone is driving toward to create a total quality mindset when it comes to patient safety.

Q: How will patient safety and imaging quality be critical in the age of value-based care?

AO: Value-based care means it’s no longer a volume game. It’s not how many patients you can service; it’s how well you can service them or provide a value-based experience. To be successful in value-based care, you must focus on what concerns your patients the most. In imaging, two of the biggest concerns around patient safety are reducing radiation dose and getting the image right the first time to reduce re-scans.

In our recent patient experience of imaging study, when asked about their priorities, the majority of patients responded that effective scans with minimal dose was very important or extremely important as well as getting the right image the first time to reduce re-scans. So, patient safety and quality are critical to the value proposition hospitals must deliver to patients and will be a key component of value-based care. At Philips, we focus on innovations that use advanced technology and design to better manage the amount of radiation dose for patients (and exposure to staff) so that we’re able to get the right image the first time to reduce radiation exposure and the need for re-scans.

Q: How can hospitals bring the reliability of imaging technology and processes to the forefront of financial discussions?

AO: In imaging, reliability and consistency are the key tenets of ensuring quality outcomes. Reliability ties into financial discussions because it ensures uptime and mitigates risk. When patients come to the hospital for a scan, they don’t want to be told the MRI machine isn’t working so they have to come back tomorrow. Their time is valuable, and there is enough stress just having to go through the imaging exam itself. This impacts not only patient satisfaction, but the ability of the hospital to meet the daily volume demands and staff resources to handle patients effectively, and that impacts the bottom-line operational costs. This is what brings the reliability of imaging technology to the forefront of financial discussions because it requires a proactive approach to quality and a commitment to proactively monitoring and responding to issues to ensure the reliability of imaging technology and the consistency of service.

Q: Why is investing in patient safety and imaging quality a smart business decision?

AO: Safety and quality initiatives all tie back to the triple aim of improving the patient experience, improving the health of populations, and reducing the cost of healthcare. We have to deliver safety and quality in reproducible or consistent ways across the world based on the different needs of the various locations. It’s about the long-term commitment to improving the patient experience and the healthcare system for all.

Q: How can hospitals create a value proposition for safety and quality that resonates on the floor of the radiology department and in the boardroom?

AO: On the floor of the radiology department, you must take a behavior-based approach to really understand what safety and quality means to clinicians. This requires watching how clinicians interact with patients and imaging equipment so that you reduce any possible reason for human error such as lack of training, decision errors, or workflow constraints. In the boardroom, you must extrapolate how reducing those human errors or increasing uptime on the floor impacts higher-level corporate objectives. Hospitals need to blend that into one equation that recognizes organizations can increase revenue by ensuring the equipment on the floor is safe, reliable, and effective and the staff is trained to use them safely, reliably, and effectively.

Additionally, safety and quality initiatives must be driven, communicated, and most importantly influenced by C-suite executives to make them “stick” on the floor. For example, a safety and quality initiative as simple as washing hands to reduce infections needs to be more than just a sign on the wall that says, “Wash your hands.” We all know hand washing is important, but yet it isn’t done, and that potentially leads to infections—and that can lead to lack of reimbursement and penalties. This is where leadership can step in to understand the “why” or behaviors on the floor as it relates to hand-washing. This is the opportunity for executives to step in with an organizationwide approach in which they inform staff of the problem; educate on the issue; show how many patients are potentially affected by not washing hands regularly; and instruct on the proper way to wash hands. In addition, and perhaps one of the most important steps, senior executives can take the lead to empower people on the floor to call out their peers to wash their hands and make everyone accountable, not just for their own behavior on safety and quality, but their peers’ behavior as well.

Q: How has the role of safety has become more critical with the transition to value-based care?

AO: The transition to value-based care just reinforces that everything hospitals do must tie back to that value proposition of safety and quality because now, more than ever, it impacts reimbursements, which ties directly back to revenue. That’s the cost of poor safety or quality initiatives.

For example, if a patient gets an infection, the hospital doesn’t receive reimbursement for treating that patient’s infection that they acquired at the hospital, which can add up to significant costs. Reimbursement money is withheld if it is due to a hospital-associated infection (HAI), and hospitals can receive penalties if they have a really high rate of patients getting infections. There are well over 1 million HAIs that occur annually, and it costs billions of dollars a year.

Q: C-suites generally are about the bottom line, and sometimes safety and security take a back seat in budget discussions. How can the profile of safety and quality be made a priority in C-suite agendas?

AO: Safety and quality shouldn’t be seen as a cost center that can be cut to pursue other goals; it should align with every business decision. Hospital leadership has to take a broader view of safety and quality and recognize the broader value across the organization. Leadership engagement is increasing because there is strategic value long-term—there is an aggregate benefit overtime to corporate objectives. This long-term view of safety and quality initiatives negates any short-term cost or budget impact. With a holistic view, hospitals can deliver care in the most expeditious way but also the most caring way. The two goals can coexist and be mutually beneficial.

John Palmer is a freelance writer who has covered healthcare safety for numerous publications. Palmer can be reached at safetyjohn@yahoo.com.