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RBMA’s executive director reflects on the last half-century of close collaboration with the ACR.
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You can have the greatest radiologist in the world read an MRI, but if it’s not communicated in a timely fashion, or not coded or billed accurately, that leads to a negative patient experience.

October 21, 2020

The Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) has had a symbiotic relationship with the ACR since its founding. The two organizations have collaborated on a range of salient issues related to the business of radiology for over 50 years — the results of which have benefited not only the larger radiology community, but patients as well. The Bulletin spoke with Robert T. Still, FRBMA, executive director of the RBMA, about the longstanding partnership between the RBMA and the College — and how that relationship has been a boon to all involved.

How did the relationship between ACR and the RBMA originate?

RBMA began after Medicare started in 1965 as a loose-knit group of practice managers (also called business managers at the time) — many of whom were female and functioned as executive secretaries for radiology groups. They would gather and ask questions like, “Well, how do you bill? What do you bill for? How do you code this?”

About this same time, independent physician billing passed through Congress. This meant that physician practices could bill and be independent of hospitals. However, it also meant that they faced a new challenge — they essentially had to teach each other how to bill for procedures. A collaboration between the practice managers of RBMA and the radiologists of ACR to address this challenge seemed a natural fit.

This is how the relationship originated and now, goes back 52 years to our founding. In fact, in RBMA’s bylaws there is a stipulation that our board of directors always has a voting representative from the ACR on it, so the collaboration continues strong today. Our current representative is Elaine R. Lewis, MD, FACR, section chief of radiology at Tower Health Partners in Reading, Pa.

What are some ways in which the ACR and RBMA have worked together over the years?

Our relationship has grown over the years. We try to work hand in hand with the College so that we can be complementary on our advocacy efforts. For instance, we have a leadership call with RBMA and ACR leaders once a month to discuss the issues that both organizations are working on. These calls usually revolve around federal regulatory payment issues, but can also extend into relationships with commercial insurance payers or other payment policy matters.

Beginning in January 2021, there are proposed cuts to radiology of 11% for Medicare reimbursements. We’re working very closely with the College and a lot of other physician organizations to fight these cuts. The College’s lobbying on Capitol Hill is strong, and they have longstanding connections with other professional medical societies. RBMA is going to support that with a robust grassroots approach, by going out into specific congressional districts with our members. RBMA also has the ability to survey our members quickly and produce valid data on the effects of federal reimbursement regulatory issues. Often times, this data is used by the College when they go to Capitol Hill to say, “This is what’s going to happen in the radiology practices.”

Finally, RBMA and the ACR partner every January to host the Practice Leaders Forum, which offers practical management strategies, tailored for a radiology environment. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, the 2021 ACR-RBMA Practice Leaders Forum will be a virtual event, rather than an in-person gathering (see sidebar).

How is problem-solving as a community more effective than working in silos?

I managed a radiology practice for 22 years. As a practice administrator, you’re often the only businessperson in the practice. My job was to make sure that when the radiologist sits in that chair to read, they can focus on their clinical work and not worry about the billing, vacation policy, or insurance payment.

I look at the running of the RBMA the same way. Our organization’s role is to provide education and policy advice to complement the College’s strong role in clinical research and advocacy. We don’t comment on clinical issues; that’s the College’s role. But we do provide strong coding guidance, management advice, training, and education. We’re mutually beneficial.

How does this mutually beneficial relationship build patient trust?

You can have the greatest radiologist in the world read an MRI, but if it’s not communicated in a timely fashion, or not coded or billed accurately, that leads to a negative patient experience. Both the administrative and clinical sides have to work together to make sure that the imaging experience for the patient is second to none, because that’s why we’re all here — to serve our patients.

Author Interview by Cary Coryell, publications specialist, ACR Press