Nuclear Medicine Utilization Shows Slight Decline

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Nuclear medicine/SPECT utilization is relatively flat and trending slightly downward, with the volume of procedures performed having decreased by an average of approximately 0.5% per year between 2007 and 2010. Last year, an estimated 17.0 million nuclear medicine procedures were performed on SPECT or SPECT/CT cameras in the U.S., at 7,230 hospital and non-hospital sites.

These are among findings of a recent report released by IMV Medical Information Division, a Des Plaines, Illinois-based marketing research and consulting firm that specializes in imaging and other advanced health care technology markets.

Lorna Young, IMV Medical Information Division’s senior director of market research, said in a statement that such “zero growth” in procedures is attributable to several factors, including the impact of pre-authorization requirements from health insurance companies; competing technologies (for example, the movement from bone studies to PET); and the shift of myocardial perfusion studies to other modalities.

Young also cited as a catalyst the limited availability of molybdenum, a precursor to technetium-99m. In 2009 and 2010, there existed significant uncertainty about the supply of radiopharmaceuticals needed for myocardial perfusion and other nuclear medicine studies.

In other study findings, physician practice locations (primarily cardiology practices) were found to be feeling financial pressure due to reduced reimbursements from Medicare and third-party payors. Asked to identify which issues most affect their outlook for the future, hospital and non-hospital participants named “reductions in Medicare and third-party reimbursements, causing NM revenue to decline.”

Moreover, the research shows, a larger proportion (87%) of the nuclear procedures conducted in non-hospital locations are cardiovascular studies, while 47% of these procedures are conducted in hospitals. Hospitals are more likely to be conducting other procedure types, including bone scans and liver/hepatobiliary, renal, respiratory, infection/abscess, and tumor localization studies.

Finally, just over one-fourth of participants indicated that they provide neurology applications. However, this figure may increase to about to one-third by 2013.