MRI at Night

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The hope is for better utilization of equipment.

Patients in Jacksonville, FL, no longer have to take off work or skip class to have an MRI performed. They can now schedule MRI tests between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., seven days a week, thanks to a new initiative under way at Baptist Medical Center Downtown. Recently, Baptist Medical Center, much like the rest of the industry, has been challenged by the recession. Even though volumes for various imaging modalities have remained flat across the five-hospital health system, MRI volumes at its downtown campus are down roughly 4% to 5% this year, says Stephen Lee, vice president of operations.

During a brainstorming session about the economic downturn and the health system's declining volumes, leaders hit upon the idea for an "MRI at Night" program. "The thinking was, if people are losing their jobs and afraid to take time off of the jobs that they have, then maybe we need to get the word out that we have the equipment and staff here 24/7," explains Lee.

The program, which launched in June 2009, has the potential to not only improve patient satisfaction, but also drive more volume to the health system's newly remodeled imaging center that opened this past spring at its downtown location. Baptist Medical Center spent about $3.5 million to replace two aging MRI machines with two of GE Healthcare's new Signa HDxt 1.5-tesla MRI systems and they changed conference rooms into an imaging center that features more upscale waiting areas and a separate entrance for pediatric patients, says Robert Perez, director of imaging services.

Even though the program hasn't garnered that great of a response yet—they have only scheduled 15 appointments in the first three months—Lee says they still expect it to grow. "This is really something that we anticipate gaining steam over a two- to three-year period of time," he says. The health system is still training staff members, who use the centralized scheduling system, to provide information about the program to patients making appointments and informing physicians about the program.

But since they haven't had to hire additional staff or purchase equipment solely for the program, there is really no downside to it. Baptist Medical Center already has the appropriate staff in place—two technologists and some support staff—because they have to be there to serve inpatients and people who come to the emergency department.

"Our primary objective was making it more convenient and patient friendly and, obviously, if we had a lot of patients, it would generate additional revenue," says Lee. "We'll keep looking to not only expand this to our other campuses, but look to other areas where we can mimic this."

Carrie Vaughan

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