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Imaging Is Key In Hospital’s Surprising Success

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One way or another, a major national cost squeeze is coming to health care. A small rural hospital in Arizona shows how to prosper despite a difficult economic environment and limited resources—and one of its key strategies involves imaging.

Copper Queen Community Hospital has just 15 beds and serves Bisbee, Arizona, population 5,500. Once a copper-mining boomtown, Bisbee, according to reporter Jenny Gold, “has become a haven for hippies and tourists, the streets lined with art galleries and antique shops. People in the town and surrounding Cochise County tend to be low income and often suffer from chronic illnesses. Many are also uninsured.”

Gold profiled Copper Queen Hospital for Kaiser Health News and NPR. She reported that CEO Jim Dickson has led the nonprofit hospital to surpluses of 5 to 10 percent in each of the past four years.

Dickson made some tough decisions to cut a number of services that weren’t pulling their weight financially, including the community’s only childbirth facility. But he has also kept equipment up-to-date (using federal grants and joining purchasing organizations with larger hospitals in order to obtain discounts). And he increased the volume of patient services by opening three rural clinics around the region, each staffed with primary-care doctors.

Each clinic also has a physical therapist, a lab, and an X-ray machine. Imaging is a major part of Dickson’s business plan, which emphasizes generating extra income in addition to that from the basic doctor visit. He explained:

There’s one dollar for a patient visit, but three to four for diagnostics. You have to have that.

Altogether, Dickson employs 12 doctors. In order to attract top talent, he pays them salaries competitive with those at urban hospitals. He uses telemedicine programs for cardiology, pulmonology, dermatology, and stroke treatment. Only two of the staff doctors are specialists: a general surgeon and, yes, a radiologist.

Dickson admits that Copper Queen still faces challenges, especially because the Arizona state government is planning to reduce overall health spending by $531 million in 2012. Still, he’s demonstrating that smart management can deliver high-quality health care, at a profit, under even unpromising circumstances.

And, as we all know, “smart management” includes recognizing the value, in both caring for patients and generating revenue, of radiology.

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