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Independent voice of digital radiology silenced?

October 13, 2011
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service


A company billed as the “independent voice” of digital radiology has been bought by one of the largest corporate entities in veterinary medicine — Idexx.   

Now former DVMInsight CEO Dr. Matt Wright is catching flak from those who characterize the outspoken champion of independent practice as a hypocrite.   

DVMInsight is in the business of easing the way for independent radiologists to operate. Wright declined to detail what prompted him to sell his company but says he believes the move to Idexx will only strengthen DVMInsight.

"I'm still managing DVMInsight from offices in San Diego with the same team. Nothing has changed," Wright tells the VIN News Service.

Still, many are curious about the apparent 180-degree turn Wright has taken. The boarded radiologist positioned his business as the antithesis of “faceless” mega-companies.   

Idexx Laboratories is best known for its ever-expanding network of veterinary reference laboratories and in-house diagnostic and detection equipment for veterinary practices. It’s also known for computer software and an entire division dedicated to telemedicine.

Wright had eschewed large corporations encroaching on teleradiology so much that a competitor has sued him, in part, for making alleged libelous statements such as this: "We're more effective than the so-called 'big boys' that try to pass off a sweat shop for a teleradiology service." With quarterly earnings reported at $317.9 million, Idexx presumably was included in Wright’s characterizations.

“What I find really interesting is that Matt wrote this blog about how terrible corporate teleimaging companies are, and now he is part of one,” says a board-certified radiologist who spoke on condition of anonymity, seeking to avoid the controversy. “There’s a little bit of hypocrisy there.” 

Dr. Daniel Feeney, a boarded radiologist in the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Imaging Group (UMVMIG) who uses DVMInsight daily, is equally perplexed: “Considering the rhetoric he’s put out there, this isn’t what I expected.”

Unless Idexx makes significant changes, Feeney says he and his UMVMIG colleagues plan to continue with DVM Insight, which provides an Internet-based platform that allows them to send and receive images and consultation reports. They also can store the information.

“We got a letter from Idexx that says our clients (will remain) our clients. There will be a name change and likely a few other changes, but we are prepared to deal with that,” he says.

As far as the sale of DVMInsight is concerned, Feeney muses: “Maybe it was the business opportunity of a lifetime. I’m sure it was a complex decision for Matt.”   

Wright built a business serving individual radiologists working their own cases and creating their own businesses as a counter to large companies that bundle radiology equipment with services manned by a stable of in-house radiologists reading images.   

The latter model, Wright has argued, drives down pay for radiologists, encourages homogenized reports and emphasizes deadlines over accuracy.   

“The bottom line with all of this is that commoditizing teleradiology results in a situation where potentially inexperienced and underpaid radiologists are pressured to create wish washy reports because they need to meet deadlines,” Wright once stated in his online newsletter, Animal Insides.

Whether that newsletter survives the move to Idexx remains to be seen. The sale, which closed last month for an undisclosed amount, also included DVMInsight subsidiary Sight Hound Radiology, which provided 24-hour diagnostic teleradiology services to DVMInsight users. 

The acquisition was not mentioned in Idexx’s latest Form 8-K report, filed in August. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission mandates that public companies report significant changes such as mergers and major purchases in Form 8-K filings. 

So far, the Idexx purchase appears to have had little impact on how DVMInsight and Sight Hound function, though their websites have been scrubbed of content, including a series of animated skits Wright narrated that spurred a lawsuit by competitor PetRays Veterinary Teleradiology Consultants, P.A.  
    
Filed in San Diego County Superior Court on Aug. 27, 2010, the lawsuit contends that the video skits published on the Sight Hound Radiology website made misleading and libelous statements advertising the services of DVMInsight over the “nameless, faceless” services of larger corporations.   

According to PetRays co-founder Frank Powell, MD, the lawsuit is in discovery stages, and Wright’s move to Idexx — where he and DVMInsight’s Chief Technology Officer Stephen Walters now work — will not shield him from litigation.    

“This lawsuit is filed against Matt Wright personally,” he explains.

In an October 2010 issue of Animal Insides, Wright contends that the lawsuit is without merit.

In a press release, Wright states that the Idexx-DVMInsight “partnership signals a new beginning for teleradiology where central services work alongside independent radiologists and referral centers …”

Dr. John Feleciano, manager of radiology at Idexx, adds: "IDEXX is committed to making telemedicine easy to use for our clients. Whether they use our telemedicine service or use a local radiologist, we want to make it simple. Dr. Matt Wright and his team at DVMInsight will help guide us as we work to achieve this goal."

Growing its teleradiology division via DVMInsight isn't the only change slated for Idexx. The company is in the midst of expanding its reference laboratory in Memphis, a move that's expected to create 100 new jobs.   

At the same time, 25 Idexx workers in Eau Claire, Wis, expect to receive pink slips starting in December.   

The layoffs are part of a cost-savings plan, Idexx explained in a local news report. Operations are being consolidated at Idexx headquarters in Westbrook, Maine. Overall, Idexx employs 5,000 people with clients in 168 countries.




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