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New imaging center expands local radiology services

Radiology technologist Bobbi Reitsma administers a CT scan to a patient at the new Willmar Center for Diagnostic Imaging. The center, which opened this past fall, is on the second floor of the Lakeland Health Center building. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR - When Dr. Anthony Amon tells patients they need a CT scan or a mammogram, he always worries if the patient will follow through?

But when he recently saw a woman who was due for a mammogram, he was able to schedule it and send her one floor up, to the Willmar Center for Diagnostic Imaging, on the same day, before she even left the building.

"You can get all that done in one visit," said Amon, a family practice doctor and chief executive of Family Practice Medical Center.

It's one of the benefits the family practice clinic is seeing with the launch of the Willmar Center for Diagnostic Imaging. The center, which opened in September, is a joint venture between Family Practice Medical Center, Janning ENT Center, the Asthma and Allergy Specialty Clinic and a national group, Centers for Diagnostic Imaging. It provides ultrasound and CT imaging, mammography and bone density screening, along with some interventional radiology procedures.

The partners have collectively sunk more than $1 million into the venture in the belief that it's a needed service for the region.

"You're always looking for an opportunity to bring services to your clinic as much as you possibly can for the convenience of your patients," said Gary McDowell, administrator of Family Practice Medical Center. "If we can continue to grow, we will be able to have more services here. If we can do it and still offer choice so patients have the ability to choose, all the better."

Numbers from the first couple of months show that volume projections are on target.

"It's been busy. It's been going well. It streamlined very quickly," said Dr. Marty Janning of the Janning ENT Center.

"We're starting to see more from specialists that come to town," said Darci Nagorski, senior account manager with the Centers for Diagnostic Imaging in St. Cloud. "The providers in the building use the ultrasound a lot."

Reaction from patients also has been positive, Amon said. "I think they're very happy."

"We're excited to have choice in town and to have another option," Janning said.

It was feedback from patients that first got the discussion started about expanding the clinic's medical imaging services.

Family Practice Medical Center did its own X-rays and bone density screening, but for everything else, patients went to Rice Memorial Hospital or Affiliated Community Medical Centers -- or went out of town.

"We heard from our patients they wanted mammography here. That's how this started," Amon said.

Another catalyst, McDowell said, was Minnesota's health care reform initiative which is moving toward increased provider integration.

Meanwhile, the local market was shifting as well. A new alliance between Rice Hospital and ACMC, the region's dominant providers, resulted in the creation of the Willmar Medical Services joint venture, one of whose service lines is medical imaging.

Partnering with Willmar Medical Services "wasn't in the cards" for the family practice clinic, McDowell said.

So the clinic turned instead to other partners, he said.

"Unfortunately I don't think any of us knows the true direction things are going to go," he said. "We've always tried our best to position ourselves with the change in the environment. We've got to step out a little bit to say, what are the ways we can position ourselves to keep up?"

"We want to focus on what we do best, and that is comprehensive care," Amon said.

Several key indicators will be monitored during Willmar CDI's first year of operation, he said. The partners plan to track patient volume, where patients are coming from and how they're being referred. They also want to look at opportunities for offering more needed services in the future. One of the long-term goals: finding a radiologist who will live and work full time in Wilmar.

"We would love to see continued growth," Amon said.

It'll be important this first year to get out the word that the service is available, Nagorski said. "It's a matter of educating people that we are here."

This includes direct marketing to consumers, who are becoming increasingly price-conscious, she said.

It's a level of medical competition Willmar hasn't seen before, but McDowell believes it will be healthy for all the local providers and for the community.

"We feel that if we do good-quality medicine, that word is going to get out and people will want to come and see us," he said. "We just want to be a strong partner in the medical community here. We think we have something to offer. I think we each have a unique type of position here and that's important for the future."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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