How a rural hospital improved patient experience with imaging

How a rural hospital improved patient experience with imaging
How a rural hospital improved patient experience with imaging

Rural Americans have the same imaging needs as people in urban areas, but many rural hospitals don’t believe they have the patient volume or resources to purchase MRI or CT systems. This often leads rural hospitals to pursue other options, like contracting with a mobile MRI provider. That was the case with West Feliciana Hospital (WFH), a critical access hospital in St. Francisville, La., pop. 15,000.
WFH had contracted with a mobile MRI imaging provider one day a week. While this arrangement helped the hospital meet the imaging needs of local residents, WFH noticed a decrease in provider referrals and volume over time. The reasons leading up to this were all too common.

Mobile units are often booked well in advance. That means patients — even those who urgently need a scan — have long wait times. The units can also be difficult to access, especially for patients with mobility issues. When it comes to the scanners themselves, image quality is often average, and most cannot comfortably accommodate patients with obesity. Individuals who are claustrophobic tend to feel even more enclosed in a mobile unit. These factors can adversely affect the patient experience and provider relationships. Often this results in decreased referrals and increased outmigration, which is what WFH was experiencing.

When the hospital decided to build a new facility, the leadership team reevaluated their imaging options. Unlike large health systems, rural hospitals like WFH don’t have a large population to help increase volume. Their budgets are much smaller than urban facilities, which is why many rural hospitals continue to use mobile units or try to make do with aging equipment. While these options might work for the short term, forward-thinking CEOs like Lee Chastant of WFH look beyond the upfront cost of bringing imaging in house.     
“I think critical access hospitals question the feasibility of getting CT and MRI equipment because the price tag is fairly large at the beginning,” Chastant says. “But they don’t realize that strategically, it opens up many more avenues for the hospital.” 

Purchasing advanced imaging equipment not only helps rural hospitals like WFH keep patients local, it can provide the opportunity to expand services in the future. That’s why it’s important to choose a vendor who really understands rural.

While some health care facilities gravitate toward big brands, these vendors usually are not the best fit for rural hospitals because they cater to larger systems. NRHA endorses vendors like Platinum Partner Fujifilm who understand that rural hospitals aren’t simply smaller versions of big-city hospitals.

According to Chastant, rural-focused service is a must-have. “As a rural hospital, our community depends on us,” he says. “If we’re not operating, the next local hospital is far away. So it’s critical for our CT and MRI to be up and running. Our ability to operate 24/7 and to do it efficiently and completely is very important for us, particularly in a rural environment.”

Versatility is also important to rural hospitals that need imaging systems with enough flexibility to handle everyday cases as well as complex ones. For example, WFH needed MRI and CT machines that could accommodate individuals with obesity as well as elderly and anxious patients. The ability to easily position patients on the table was also important, since most technologists work alone.

The unique capabilities of Fujifilm’s imaging equipment – including the ability to accommodate patients up to 550 pounds and put anxious patients at ease – plays an important role in improving the patient experience. As one imaging patient explains, “When I saw the machine at West Feliciana, I could tell it was going to be a different experience than my previous MRI. The machine was more open, and because my feet would go in first, I’d still be able to see daylight behind me. From a claustrophobic standpoint, that was really comforting, and I was able to lay still.”

Image quality is another must-have for rural hospitals that want to compete with other facilities. “Our community told us time and time again that they want the same services that they have in the big city, but they want it locally,” Chastant says. “So it’s important to be able to provide the same diagnostic quality as patients would get if they went to a bigger city.”

Once hospital leaders saw Fujifilm’s equipment in action, skepticism quickly turned to optimism — and ultimately, increased referrals. “Our radiologists have told us that they have had to change the way they read our exams because the image quality on both machines show so much detail,” says Dakisha Robertson, director of imaging.   

Radiologist Charles Greeson admits that he “had some anxiety” at first but when he saw the images, he was pleasantly surprised.  “I was not that well acquainted with Fuji,” Greeson explains. “But … I am always impressed by what I am able to see. There are times when I look at an abnormality and say, ‘I don’t know if I would have been able to see that on another unit.’”

Image quality not only plays a role in building provider relationships and referrals, it can also improve the overall patient experience. Better image quality leads to more accurate diagnoses, which can translate into better patient outcomes.  “Since we’ve had the equipment, we’ve been able to incorporate GI, pain management, endocrinology, and ophthalmology,” Chastant says. “And it’s all because we’ve been able to provide the diagnostics that these specialists need.”

Being clinically versatile can help a rural hospital keep revenues up and costs down. That means getting the biggest bang possible not only from MRI and CT machines, but also from 3D mammography, ultrasound, digital radiography, and picture archiving and communication systems.

All of Fujifilm’s imaging systems offer broad capabilities that allow rural hospitals to take care of every patient who needs imaging services while benefitting from a lower total cost of ownership. This quality and flexibility can significantly improve the patient experience – and as WFH experienced, adding in-house imaging modalities can also increase volume, referrals, and revenue.

NRHA adapted the above piece from Fujifilm Healthcare Solutions, a trusted NRHA partner, for publication within the Association’s Rural Health Voices blog.