MRI facility marks its 30th anniversary | nnbusinessview.com

MRI facility marks its 30th anniversary

Back in the mid-1980s', magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was a relatively new technique in aiding the diagnosis of health-related issues.

Convinced that the concept had a viable future in the medical field, a group of radiologists at Saint Mary's Medical Center asked hospital administration to consider investing in the technology.

Executives pondered the idea for about a year-and-half before they decided it was too expensive to implement at the hospital, but gave the group their blessing to start their own MRI facility.

So Dr. Ross H. Golding, along with Dr. Timothy Martin, Dr. Samuel Lane, Dr. Richard Kremp, M.D. and John Nelley started mapping out plans for what became known as Reno Diagnostic Centers. (It was pluralized after it opened a second location).

To do so, the radiologists first had to get state approval and were required to apply to for a certificate of need to create such a facility.

"The state decided they would allow one MRI scanner in the north and one MRI scanner in the south. We were chosen as the site for scanner in the north," Dr. Golding said. They decided not to install the MRI scanner in the south so we were the first MRI scanner in the state."

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Dr. Golding and his cohorts pooled together money out of their own pockets and also applying for a loan from banks. He said that since the technology was new and relatively unproven, it was difficult to convince financial institutions that it was viable business.

"Everybody had to do their homework on the project. We put in a lot of time and posted a very conservative business plan and we do that every time we're going to expand, buy a piece of equipment," he said.

The group handpicked an empty lot on Eureka Avenue near Wells and Sixth Street that was then owned by Sierra Pacific Power (now NV Energy). After construction was completed, RDC finally opened its doors in 1985.

After some remodeling to accommodate growth and the ever-changing technology, the main RDC campus is now 16,700 square feet.

At first, physicians and patients alike were skeptical of RDC, and Dr. Golding admitted it took several years for the company to get a foothold in the medical world.

"When we first started we were close to the bleeding edge, because people didn't know what MRI was and what the benefit of the imaging would be for their patients," he said.

To help get a full grasp of medical imaging, RDC first contacted Dr. Bill Bradley the leading MRI specialist in the country who was based in Southern California. Dr. Golding said they spent several months with Dr. Bradley and became the local experts of MRI in northern Nevada.

As the MRI technology gradually improved, so did RDC's business. The quality of images became much better and the time it took to conduct an image scan was greatly reduced.

"We started only doing four or five MRI's a day to doing 50 to 60 MRIs a day," Dr. Golding said.

Today, RDC services about 300 patients a day or 70,000 exams a year. It is recognized by several health insurance carriers Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, United Healthcare and Providence.

To keep up with demand, RDC opened another location-a 9,000-square-foot facility off of Sierra Rose Drive in south Reno.

RDC services patients from around the Truckee Meadows, Carson Valley as well as places like Winnemucca, and Fernley. Patients even come as far as Boise for imaging service, primarily because they can get a scan for about one-fourth the cost of any facility in that region.

Dr. Golding said in the beginning MRIs were only used for brain and spine imaging, but as the technology advanced, so did the imaging of other parts of the human anatomy, such as knees, wrists, shoulders and ankles.

They continued to contact and build relationships with other leading MRI experts that examined different body parts. The company was the first in the region to introduce other imaging scanners including the open MRI scanner (1996); the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging system (2000); and the digital mammography system (2001).

The company updates its equipment on a yearly basis either through routine maintenance or decides if it is time to replace a machine. Maintaining an MRI scanner costs up to $120,000 a year. The cost of a new scanner costs anywhere from about $2 million to $3 million each.

Although RDC prides itself staying abreast of new technologies in the industry, Dr. Golding said the company also has tried to make shrewd decisions so they don't invest in what he called 'fads' that tend to spring up in the market.

One example he noted was thermography (using heat waves in an attempt to detect breast cancer) that was marketed to RDC.

"It has since been shown that it can be a complete and utter waste of time and money, so we decided not to offer that to our patients," Dr. Golding said.

When RDC first started, patient information and images were stored on film and now everything is stored on a computer system. In 2011, RDC launched a redesigned Web site at http://www.renodiagnosticcenters.com, with a secure network, where patients and physicians can access medical information without having to transport it from medical various offices.

The company employs about 120, which includes its team of radiologists plus a full-time IT staff of four people.

RDC looks for radiologists who graduated from top academic institutions in the country such as Stanford University, UCLA or Harvard, although Dr. Golding said they prefer they have several years of experience in the field before they come to work for the company. They work with the American College of Radiologists to find and screen qualified candidates.

Dr. Golding says the company has succeeded over the last 30 years because its sole purpose is medical imaging, which allows them to become complete experts on the subject. And they intend to grow and expand in concert with the region's demographic needs.

"We are successful because we really understand the business," he said. We work extremely hard at it and are very flexible."