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Bob Gunter: The business side of Premier

Liz Engel Clark
Tuesday, Dec 3, 2013


Bob Gunter.

It’s no secret that the health care landscape has changed – and changed drastically – in Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland over the past 15 years.

Among the storylines – of additions, expansions, acquisitions and the like – is the concurrent growth of Premier – both the Medical Park and Premier Diagnostic Imaging center, which offers outpatient diagnostic testing, like MRIs, CTs, ultrasounds and digital mammography.

A mainstay behind the scenes during that span has been Bob Gunter, the former executive director of Premier Diagnostic Imaging and now head of Medical Consulting Specialist Inc., a medical record service company that helps Premier – and other physicians and physician groups – with its business planning, medical billing, equipment purchasing and more.

The imaging center is physician owned, and thus, the physicians ultimately drive the mission of Premier, Gunter said, but it’s his job to keep costs down so those doctors can offer the best medical service at the best value.

Born in Fort Campbell, Ky., and raised in Clarksville, Gunter spent the first decade-plus of his post-college career on the west coast learning the ins and outs of the medical business. When he came back to Tennessee, he landed in Goodlettsville. It was there that he caught wind of an opening in the Cookeville market.

“After coming back to Tennessee, I was working in the diagnostic imaging business and with radiologists and hospitals,” he said. “I had some business associates who told me about an opportunity in Cookeville to start a new imaging center.

“At that time, there were not a lot of options for patients in Cookeville,” he continued. “Our research showed that a majority of patients were going to Nashville for health care.”

In short, Premier Medical Park was born, a birth that took “lots of hard work and elbow grease,” Gunter said. The park’s campus on North Washington Avenue, a former strip mall, one of the town’s first, was heavily renovated from its state of disrepair. In 1999, the ensuing and dramatic split of Putnam Radiology from Cookeville Regional Medical Center, where it for decades had provided radiological services, catapulted Premier Diagnostic Imaging into the place it’s at today.

While, at the time, the move was a contentious one, it helped further shape Cookeville into the health care hub of the Upper Cumberland, Gunter said. The modern day Premier, which serves a 17-county area, was the first to bring digital mammography into Cookeville and the UC, Gunter said. Premier was also among the first in Tennessee to add tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography.

“At that time, imaging was changing,” Gunter said, when asked about the initial divide. “More and more was going to outpatient, because the cost was lower, (there were) just a lot of different factors. The hospital had the idea that they should control all health care in the community. We thought, ‘Hey, the price of health care comes down when there’s competition,’ and with the growth in the community, we thought it was needed. That’s what created the rift.”

And now?

“We complement each other,” Gunter said. “Even though we provide (some of) the same services, they do way more than we do. We cannot do everything the hospital does. But from our standpoint, we’re offering a vital service to the community, and the success (of Premier) going on 15 years now proves that.

“We just provide what our citizens need as far as health care,” he added. “It’s about taking care of the patients.”

As for Gunter himself, it can’t be all work and no play. When he’s not at the office, he’s either reading, spending time with his family – which includes his wife of 33 years and two daughters – or playing the classical guitar.

“I’ve been playing on and off for well over 30 years,” Gunter said. “There’s a handful of classical guitarists here, and we get together, put on concerts and bring in other good players. I also collect some instruments. I like to play music and learn, study and read about music.”

While the health care landscape is far from fixed, Gunter looks forward to being part of the next wave of change in the region. He’s glad to call Cookeville home.

“I enjoy this community,” he said. “I’m glad I can give back by helping keep an organization like Premier Diagnostic Imaging active. It’s a great place to work and live.”

Bob Gunter is president of Medical Consulting Specialist Inc., 315 N. Washington Ave., Suite 209, Cookeville. For more information, call (931) 520-6500 or visit www.premierdiagnostic.com.


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