Referrals rising

Hospital officials: Increase in MRI scans shows profit potential

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The numbers of Magnetic Resonance Imagining scans have skyrocketed in a little more than two weeks since The Memorial Hospital entered into an interim lease agreement with Northwest Health Specialists -- a medical group that owns and houses Craig's only MRI machine.

TMH officials projected they could gain 59 scans a month from the service, but according to early numbers, that prediction may reach almost 90 scans in a month's time, TMH administrator Randy Phelps said.

"It's doing as expected," he said. "We're probably going to exceed our expectations by 10 percent."

Hospital officials say they need to book 50 MRI scans a month to break even on costs of the lease agreement with Northwest Health Specialists. The agencies have forged a 15-month lease that reimburses the clinic on a per-scan basis.

But TMH officials are interested in purchasing the building and its equipment, which includes X-ray equipment, an MRI machine and other equipment. They are waiting on the results of building assessment by real estate appraisers Shannon & Associates of Fort Collins. TMH's Board of Trustees also needs approval from the Moffat County commissioners before moving forward with the purchase. When the purchase is made, it would end the reimbursement arrangement.

Northwest Health Specialists worker Kristy King has been administering MRI scans for years but has noticed a dramatic increase in patients since the Northwest Health Specialists entered into the lease agreement.

King said the difference is that almost all local physicians are referring patients to the clinic. Previously, physicians mostly referred patients to a traveling MRI service or an out-of-town MRI service. "The doctors are supporting it now because the hospital backs it," King said. "It's unfair because the other machine (traveling MRI) wasn't as good as this one. I'm surprised at how it's gotten busier. I hated to see it sitting here not getting used."

King said a patient's physician decides whether a local radiologist or one in a group of Denver radiologists "reads" the scan. Images from the Center's MRI instantly are electronically transmitted to Denver. That can save time, she said.

"At first I was worried that it wouldn't work out very well," King said of the agreement and working with hospital. "But we haven't had any problems. It's been really smooth."

Pam Young, the Northwest Health Specialists' financial officer said that for the first time since the MRI was purchased four years ago, the MRI is servicing the volume of patients the clinic initially projected.

In June 2003, General Electric initiated collection proceedings on Northwest Health Specialists when it was nine months late in making the $22,638 monthly payments on the machine. The bill was settled before it went before a judge.

"It's amazing what can happen when physicians continue to order scans," Young said. "I can tell by the volume that it's definitely being supported now. It's to good know that it's being embraced now. It's a good thing for the community."

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