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Clinics form joint venture to establish a radiology unit in city

WILLMAR -- Three Willmar clinics have formed a joint venture with the Center for Diagnostic Imaging to open their own outpatient medical imaging center in Willmar this fall.

The partners are Family Practice Medical Center, Janning ENT Center and the Asthma and Allergy Clinic. Construction is already under way on the new Willmar CDI, which will be located in the Lakeland Health Center. When it opens sometime in September, it will provide CT scanning, ultrasound, digital mammography, X-ray and bone density imaging, as well as image-guided biopsies and image-guided interventional procedures for diagnosing and treating back and joint pain.

Family Practice Medical Center has been looking for the past year at ways of enhancing services, said Dr. Anthony Amon, chief executive of the nine-physician family practice clinic.

One issue that emerged repeatedly: Patients kept asking if the clinic could add a mammography service so that they wouldn't have to go elsewhere for breast cancer screening, Amon said. "That's how it started. This grew out of our patients' desire for this."

The Asthma and Allergy Clinic and Janning ENT Center also saw an opportunity for a joint venture that would enhance their services, physicians with the two independent practices said.

Dr. Martin Janning, an ear, nose and throat specialist, said he had already been considering venturing into imaging on his own.

"For me it's an important service," he said. "Most of the modalities are things I use on a regular basis."

When he learned Family Practice Medical Center was looking into the addition of medical imaging, "I was very excited about that," he said. "For patient care, it's always been about choice."

Serious discussion among the three clinics about entering into a partnership began this past winter.

"We started to look at radiology groups. We interviewed several," Amon said.

CDI, a national network of medical imaging providers, operates imaging centers in 30 states and has more than a dozen sites in Minnesota. The nearest are in St. Cloud and Alexandria, a fact that helped weigh in the local clinics' decision.

"They have done this sort of thing. They have a track record," Amon said. "It's kind of a natural fit for us."

To start with, a radiologist will visit Willmar CDI one day a week, mainly to do interventional procedures, Amon said. The long-term plan is to recruit a radiologist who will live and work in Willmar, he said.

At some future point, the partners might also consider adding an MRI unit.

It's projected that the new outpatient radiology center will do 20 to 40 procedures a day.

Dr. Amy Ellingson of the Asthma and Allergy Clinic doesn't expect to be a major user of the new imaging center, but she nevertheless sees it as a benefit for her patients.

"I'm really excited about it," she said. "I think all of the services will be a big bonus for the community. I think we see it as a good opportunity to bring that type of service to Willmar. ... The pieces just seemed to fit in terms of this group and getting everybody together."

Medical imaging services have historically been locally dominated by Rice Memorial Hospital and Affiliated Community Medical Centers. The market shifted at the beginning of 2008, when the city-owned hospital and ACMC launched Willmar Medical Services, a 50-50 joint venture whose services include medical imaging.

The move helped streamline how these services are provided and has reduced some expensive duplication -- but one of the side effects, said Janning, was to cut down on the options for smaller, independent clinics such as his.

"One of our frustrations has been that there's no choice," he said.

The partners in Willmar CDI hope their new venture will broaden the local market and improve the ability to offer radiology service, particularly some of the more specialized interventional services, Janning said.

"I think it just adds choice. It perhaps adds more access to radiology care that isn't available at this point," he said. "I think it's just better care for patients in general."

Will the increased availability mean the technology will be used more frequently and push up the local cost of health care? Amon said he doesn't think so.

"Hopefully this will be cost-effective and judiciously used," he said. "We have different ways we can track that."

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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