Sunday, November 23, 2003

Medical imaging is more patient-friendly

Enterprise insight

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Dan Stefanou at his imaging center on Crookshank Road in Western Hills, the first one he opened after deciding he could offer this service on his own.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Where some people see problems, entrepreneurs like Dan Stefanou see opportunities. Recognizing and seizing opportunities has resulted in the rapid growth of Stefanou's medical imaging firm since its founding five years ago.

Stefanou trained in biology and nuclear medicine at the University of Cincinnati, and immediately after graduation, entered the medical technology field. For 10 years he worked in area hospitals, ultimately becoming chief technologist at St. Francis-St. George Hospital (now Mercy Franciscan) in Westwood.

He was often less than impressed with the service patients received in hospital testing facilities. At the time, pay was usually low, and so was morale. Stefanou became convinced that an outpatient clinic could provide medical imaging in a friendlier, more accessible environment.

"I thought, 'Why not go out on my own?' " Stefanou recalled.

So in 1998, the west-side native launched Western Hills Medical Imaging in a medical office building on Crookshank Road. His initial investment purchased a nuclear camera, a treadmill and an echocardiogram machine: the basics that would allow him to perform nuclear scans and cardiovascular tests.

"It was a leap of faith," he said. "I started with three or four employees and a very conservative business approach. My goal was to have better services, quicker scheduling and accurate results and to get those results out in a timely fashion. We did well and made a profit."

Dan Stefanou has never forgotten the poor employee morale that made him decide to leave hospital imaging centers and open his own company. He credits his employees with maintaining the level of service and personal relationships central to WHMI's mission.

"I believe in rewarding good performance with praise and money," he said. "I'm pro-employee because I've been through it. We have a nice outpatient setting with friendly, happy employees.

"I'm involved from bottom to top: I do imaging, I meet with physicians, and I monitor the billing. That's whera a lot of money is lost. Why not monitor your accounts and be able to pay people better?"

WHMI employs 19 people. Its main office is at 5049 Crookshank Road, Suite 103. Information: 922-5565.

Another opportunity soon appeared.

"I saw there was a market in Harrison," Stefanou said. "Harrison is growing, but there was no diagnostic center that provided this type of testing in that area."

WHMI's new Harrison office, which opened in 1999, replicated its original formula: nuclear and cardiovascular testing in a non-threatening environment.

"It was a bit slow at first, but worth hanging on for," Stefanou said. "Harrison continues to grow; more and more doctors are moving out there. I knew that was going to happen."

An alliance with Greater Cincinnati Associated Physicians (GCAP) led to the establishment of a WHMI facility in Monfort Heights in 2001. GCAP CEO Pamela Zipperer-Davis explained that her group operates the imaging center, but leases equipment and staff from WHMI.

"It's fairly innovative for a company to provide both staff and equipment," she said.

Said Stefanou: "I approached GCAP, stressing my area of expertise, my licenses for radioactive substances, and told them I could help them start their center. For me, it was low risk, low investment."

That model has worked well, and has encouraged Stefanou to pursue other relationships with physician groups, notably through mobile units. For instance, WHMI recently contracted to provide testing for patients of Queen City Physicians at the doctors' offices in Hyde Park. Mobile service is bringing the company's personnel and equipment also to patients in nursing homes and other health care facilities on the west side and in Madeira, Clermont County and Oxford.

"They can go out into the community where patients are," Zipperer-Davis said. "That becomes more important as the population ages."

"It saves people having to drive downtown and waiting for hours," Stefanou said. "We can go right into their room if necessary."

Another professional alliance will result in a fourth WHMI facility. In the next month, Stefanou and a business partner, Dr. Peter Kambelos, will break ground on a new building in Monfort Heights. WHMI will lease half of the new 4,000-square-foot building; Kambelos' practice will occupy the other half.

"The goal is to make this more of a full-service, multi-purpose facility so folks in that area are better served," Kambelos said. "That's where Dan comes in. We have a lot of patients we can bring to Dan, and he has a lot of experience he can bring to us. We think it's a very nice marriage."

Kambelos is on the board of directors of Medica, an Independent Practice Association (IPA), with 70 members in Greater Cincinnati. He sees potential in a Medica-WHMI alliance that is under consideration.

"We are looking at engaging Dan for mobile imaging services in Medica offices: echocardiography and vascular studies - those two things to start, and some issues beyond that."

Said Stefanou: "We're going to continue to grow and expand, because the market is there, and our services are in high demand."


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