Wallets Open Wider for Medical Imaging Technology

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Radiology providers are planning to acquire more equipment this year, with the volume of such purchases expected to be up by 10% in 2011 compared to 2010, according to a new market perception study conducted by KLAS, Orem, Utah. Entitled “Diagnostic Imaging Purchases 2010: Spending Increases, Loyalty is Tested”, the study evaluates more than $200 million worth of equipment purchasing decisions made by 230-plus provider entities across the U.S.

The study indicates that while the ranks of purchasers have indeed broadened, equipment vendors face stiffer competition for their share of radiology providers’ dollar, whether or not the latter previously obtained all or most of their equipment within a given category from a single vendor.

Kirk Ising“In the past, there was a tendency among providers to rely heavily on previous buying patterns—eg, to opt for brand X MRI equipment each time around rather than to try brand Y, because they have always done it that way,” report author Kirk Ising says. “However, purchasing has become price-driven, and as the gaps between vendors close technology-wise, there is less loyalty to a single vendor for modality purchases and a greater likelihood to defer to others.” He added that 10% of study participants said they will be including more vendors in the selection process in 2011 than they did last year. The top two vendors considered in purchasing decisions are Siemens and GE, number one and two respectively. Philips and Toshiba make up the second tier behind the leaders.

The study also identifies a new buying pattern wherein marketing plans augment shopping around for the best deal in influencing purchasers’ final imaging equipment selection. “We are seeing more of a business-type model being followed today,” he explained. “Providers still want the best possible equipment for their patients, but with an ROI stipulation. Instead of saying they seek the latest technology to yield the greatest patient benefits, providers are looking at how that technology will set them apart from others in their market and/or have other positive effects on their bottom line.”

To illustrate his point, Ising cited the example of a provider that recently opted to buy 4D ultrasound equipment to distinguish itself from competitors whose technology precludes them from offering equally detailed fetal images to expectant parents. Vendors that prove sympathetic to such economic concerns and promote sensible packages at fair prices will, he continues, be awarded contracts, with solid customer service also key to clinching the deal.

Meanwhile, MRI—followed by CT, ultrasound, digital X-ray, and digital mammography—topped the list of modalities generating the most attention among study participants and expected to exhibit the highest volume of growth. Siemens is the top considered vendor in that segment. “MRI is the hottest iron in the fire,” Ising asserts, attributing this trend in large part to “more wide-bore equipment to serve a broader base of the population, improved imaging tools and better views.”

Wireless DR imaging, too, should see considerable growth, the study reveals. Ising notes that the entrance of new players into this sector is fueling the fire, as is the attractiveness of such benefits as increased patient positioning flexibility and enhanced workflow efficiencies. “Another piece of the puzzle here is that sometimes when wireless DR imaging equipment is retrofitted into an old system, it provides these advantages at an even lower price than what one would pay for a multi-platform CR reader.”

As for CT purchases, dose is what most providers are talking about, Ising asserts. According to the study, GE Healthcare has the most mindshare in CT. The vendor is also top of mind in the DR market segment, though Carestream is gaining considerable ground with wireless technology. Providers considering an ultrasound purchase continue to turn to GE, Philips, and Siemens, with Philips inching out GE for the top spot by a small margin. Digital mammography purchase decisions are dominated by Hologic, but GE remains the primary competitor to Hologic in this space, Ising concludes.