Q & A with Bill Algee, president of AHRA
July 09, 2019
by Sean Ruck
, Contributing Editor
HealthCare Business News spoke with current AHRA president, Bill Algee in advance of the annual conference taking place this year July 21 – 24 in Denver, Colorado, where he will pass the baton to incoming president Chris Tomlinson.
HCB News: What inspired you to pursue a career in health care?
Bill Algee: Actually I started pursuing a career in healthcare in high school. We had what's called a health occupations class. So I took that and did some observation in radiology at a hospital in Evansville, Indiana and ended up doing two rotations there for almost two full years. When you're doing that for a couple of years and realize it’s pretty cool, it’s definitely inspiring. And I liked art to a degree. So while I'm not an artist, I like photography and imaging is photography we just go about it in different ways. That really intrigued me and drove me to pick it as a career. Here we sit 32 years later.
HCB News: Why did you join the AHRA?
BA: I became a member in 1999. My director at the time, who was actually my director for 30 years — he just retired two years ago — had been in part of the AHRA and been to a couple of the annual meetings. I was a new leader, going to be a manager. He thought it would be a really good opportunity for me and it’s great for leadership development. So I gave it a shot. So I joined in 1999 and went to my first meeting that year and pretty much have been on that wagon since. Two years ago, I was elected president and it’s still hard to believe how things have moved along.
HCB News: So as president, what initiatives have you focused on?
BA: Well, we had a couple of really big initiatives this year. One thing: we had a really good CEO for 14 years, Ed Cronin, and he retired. So my job and the job of some other members had been to select a new CEO. We now have a new CEO, Dan Kelsey, who started during RSNA back in November. He's just doing a phenomenal job.
So one of the things when I gave my acceptance speech last year was that I said there were four things I really wanted to focus on: change was one of them, knowing that we were going to be changing CEOs. Collaboration and working with other industry leaders was the second item. Family was the third, and by that I mean within the AHRA, kind of taking care of ourselves. And the last was superheroes which was the theme of the meeting — to focus on who were those individuals in your life, as leaders, that really have stuck out to you and hopefully, you’ve stuck out to a few people too.
HCB News: What are the top concerns of AHRA members today?
BA: I think getting information about appropriate use criteria is a huge thing going on right now. All the legislation and changes with Medicare and Medicaid and what they're going to accept and what they're not are among our biggest challenges.
Advocacy is another concern. We don't have a true lobbying effort, but we have a regulatory affairs committee that is geared toward reviewing how any rules and laws are going to change, and if or how it's going to affect us. The AHRA, over the last few years, has become an industry leader and is being asked to come to the table to give feedback before changes are made.
The other part is that we're all asked to do more with less. You know, I don't know of any leaders that I've spoken to who has said, “Hey, I went to my budget meeting this year and they said you can have as much money as you want!” Instead, what they hear is “do you really need that?” And even with a good answer, they might not be getting it.
One of the things we’re really going to focus on next year is looking at the programs that we have and what we offer. We want to be sure those are the right programs for us to be offering. That’s something Dan has brought to the table, to look at our portfolio and make sure we are hitting on all cylinders that we need to be hitting on. Radiology departments today are often being run by multifunctional directors. They may have radiology and cardiology or radiology and lab or some other combination of skills. So we need to open up our focus a little bit more and try to be more inclusive of some of those other folks, to help them understand where we're coming from and what we're doing.
HCB News: Does the AHRA membership makeup differ from the imaging professionals in the field?
BA: I think it’s growing. We're really trying to get more of those other folks involved, so that's something that we're still reaching out about. I would say the majority of the folks that are attending the meeting are definitely radiology folks. Some of those people are trying to learn about imaging leadership as well from some of those other modalities we were talking about, but primarily it's those who have been managers or directors for a while, or new directors or people new to management. If I can, I like to try to take upcoming leaders, to help them get to the next level. I’m going to retire someday, just like my boss retired a couple of years ago, so I want to leave things in a good place with people to fill that spot.
We want people who are attending for the first time at 25 years old and people that are 65. There’s lots to learn from both groups.
HCB News: So taking a trip way back in time, AHRA originally matched up with the acronym…
BA: It’s funny you bring that up. The AHRA and the Association for Medical Imaging Management can be confusing. We need to make sure we have some alignment. One of the things we are doing, that Dan’s put on the table, is having somebody from an outside marketing firm come in and look at our packaging. I don't know if the name is going change, but if it if it does, it will be a challenge. We will need to answer “does the name AHRA tell the work we’re really doing?” I think it’s a discussion for a bigger group of people than me.
HCB News: How are you bringing new members into the association?
BA: One of things that we focus on is getting HR departments in hospitals to require or at least prefer that candidates have what's called a C.R.A. or certified radiology administrator credential. It’s a very comprehensive credential; it covers all the basics of leadership, but with that, candidates show they know their stuff. Some HR departments now include it as part of the job description.
HCB News: How much or how little do you think the field is growing today? Are there enough people coming in to replace those heading to retirement?
BA: We're seeing more instances of different departments combining, as I mentioned earlier, which helps cover some of the need. However, that requires strong structure underneath that. When you get to the director level, you're really focused on moving the business, you're not running the day-to-day operations — that’s the manager. Could someone from another department run our radiology department? Probably. Would I hate that? Absolutely! Because I’d be out of a job for one thing, but also because it doesn’t work so well since there’s not a deep understanding of radiology and the needs of the department. Yes, we are unique!
We also have to get younger people involved. And that goes back to cultivating the next leaders.
Finding radiologists is a challenge too. I think with radiology group consolidation we’re not that far away from having four or five groups across the country. And radiologists don’t grow out of the woodwork. Take Indiana for example. Right now, there are 46 jobs on the ACR website for radiologists. That seems like a lot to me.
HCB News: With the aging population, the demand is going to go up. There’s movement to make AI step in to help, but it seems that technology is far from where it needs to be for a very active role.
BA: If my potential career path was positioned where there would be less of a need for me or as many people in my field, I’d be reluctant to jump on that bandwagon. At RSNA, it’s booth after booth of AI solutions and you know there’s going to be some hospital CEO who’s going to look at those things and decide to just buy the AI and not hire another whoever. That potential risk exists. Maybe it’s in its infancy today, but it’s getting there.
HCB News: Can you offer predictions on how medical imaging management may change in the future?
BA: We talked about it a little bit before. You may not be running just a radiology department, you may be the leader of an imaging department and cardiology or something else. It will be a multifaceted role.
Technology is going to be challenging us in ways we haven't been challenged before. By that I mean we have to try to figure out where we’re putting our limited dollars versus keeping up with the latest technology.