For years, the field of interventional radiology has been engaged in turf battles with several specialty practices. The MarkeTech Group surveyed over 200 members of our imagePRO™ panel, which consists of imaging and radiology administrative directors, to gauge their feelings on the future of interventional radiology.

With interventional cardiology lost, vascular surgery is the next big threat to interventional radiology

Nearly half (49%) of respondents indicate that vascular surgery is the most aggressive specialty in taking over areas traditionally served by interventional radiology, followed by cardiac surgery. Interventional cardiology was not included in the poll. In a similar vein, 44% of respondents feel that artery narrowing will be lost to specialists first.

imagePRO™ respondents acknowledge that radiology departments are unlikely to keep vascular procedures in their purview. Instead, they believe radiology departments are most adamant about keeping drainage and tube placement. Overall, vascular procedures (artery narrowing, artery expansion and vein dilation) made up just 28% of responses. Tumor therapy and vertebroplasty procedures are also appealing because they are high-volume areas in less danger of being lost to other specialties.

Keeping interventional radiology is critical for maintaining profitability

It follows that radiology directors are wary of losing more interventional procedures to specialties. Interventional radiology is more profitable than diagnostic imaging alone, and imaging directors recognize the need to keep some interventional activity for financial sustainability. Diagnostic imaging is a high-volume, sometimes low margin business which can be considered a “loss leader” for some applications.

For instance, breast mammography screening is not usually a profit driver for radiology departments, but it is necessary in order to bring in biopsy patients, which receive higher reimbursement.

Being able to offer therapy immediately after a positive test result is valuable for patients. When patients experience continuity between imaging, diagnosis, and intervention, it not only makes the process easier for them, but also means more business for the hospital. Communicating this value proposition to referring physicians is key to retaining the remaining interventional areas.

The loss of interventional radiology procedures could shift the imaging landscape

If the radiology department loses more interventional procedures, the current business model is unlikely to remain profitable and radiology may have to choose one of two strategies:

  • Diagnostic service only: Some imaging centers are already showing up in shopping malls and big-box stores. These commercial centers perform extremely high volumes of low margin diagnostic procedures, which is profitable even without interventional services.
  • High specialization: Interventional radiologists could specialize in a single clinical area under the purview of the specialty rather than the radiology department.

The outcome relies not only on radiology, but also on the priorities of healthcare systems as a whole. We would love to hear from you. Do you believe that radiology departments will retain non-vascular interventional procedures for the next 10 years?