Radiologists at five academic medical centers have moved closer to taking their networking concept nationwide through a company called Telequest.
But it took an unexpected shift in marketing strategy to get things moving in the right direction.
Last year, Philadelphia-based Telequest came to the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting in Chicago with the goal of signing up individual radiology groups as its pri-mary customers, but it found few takers.
Telequest, founded in 1994, touted what seemed to be a potent concept: Connect radiology groups across the country with "superstar" radiologists to help them with challenging cases and overflow workloads. The superstar radiologists, not surprisingly, were from the five medical centers.
Homes to the 300 superstars are the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Emory University, Atlanta; University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia; and University of California San Francisco.
Navigating the bureaucracies at the participating medical centers proved to be the biggest hurdle in getting the company off the ground, said William Straub, M.D., Telequest's president and chief executive officer and former policy analyst with the Jackson Hole Group.
But despite surmounting start-up headaches to develop what seemed an appealing business model, radiology groups-60% of which have six or fewer members-were unexpectedly cool to the idea, he said.
So Telequest shifted gears, focusing on entrepreneur-owned imaging centers and hospitals. With that approach, the company returned to this year's RSNA meeting in Chicago triumphant.
In 1996, Telequest signed up customers that included Wendt-Bristol Imaging Center, Columbus, Ohio; Elliott-Whitesprings Memorial Hospital, Lancaster, S.C.; and Mendocino Coast District Hospital, Fort Bragg, Calif.
At Wendt-Bristol, Telequest physicians became a virtual radiology staff overnight. Two onsite radiologists supervise patient imaging and interpret most mammograms, X-rays and angiographic studies. But computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging studies are read elsewhere by Telequest: body images at Brigham and Women's Hospital, neurological images at UCSF and musculoskeletal images at University of Pennsylvania.
Costs are lower than those charged by the local radiology group that previously read the images, and business has increased 10%, said Marvin Kantor, chairman of Wendt-Bristol.
"The payers have embraced the concept because it perpetuates quality," he said. Kantor now has three more imaging centers in the works, and he plans to extend the Telequest relationship to cover them.
Telequest's charges vary, depending on patient volume and precise terms of the deals, said Michael Moore, M.D., a Telequest vice president. The company is privately held and doesn't publicly release financial information.
Customers can pay per study read, or Telequest will share risk under a global payment plan, Moore said. Equipment and operating costs are borne by Telequest, subject to minimum patient volumes and contract duration.