KLAS: Ultrasound use on the rise as a CT replacement

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Just as insurance carriers are scrutinizing the higher cost of a CT scan versus that of an ultrasound for diagnostic screenings, patients are becoming aware of and concerned about the amount of radiation delivered by a CT scan. This is leading to an increased number of ultrasounds being performed in several medical situations, according to the KLAS report, titled “Ultrasound 2011-Innovation on the Move."

The Orem, Utah-based market research firm investigated a number of ultrasound vendors, including what they offer and how that offering aligns with the diverse and expanding needs of healthcare providers.

"Providers, determined to respond to the concerns of both patients and insurance companies, must know they can count on ultrasound technology that will perform well across multiple specialties," noted Emily Crane, author of the report. "They want a system that is easy to move, because the anticipated increase in use means ultrasound scans will be performed across diverse departments throughout a facility."

The 237 respondents, 73 percent of whom are either radiologists or sonographers working in facilities with 500 beds or less, named the six ultrasound vendor firms they currently work with: GE Healthcare, Hitachi Medical Systems America, Philips Healthcare, Siemens Healthcare, Toshiba America Medical Systems and Zonare Medical Systems. Philips and GE are performing extremely well with their newest customers and are seeing early adoption of new technologies and procedures.

Of the top three ranked performers GE received an overall performance score of 91.5 out of 100, followed by Toshiba (89.8) and Philips (87.1). When looking at customers who have installed and gone live within the past one year, the most satisfied customers belong to GE and Philips.

Although reported costs are on the high end, GE received the highest marks for overall image quality while still being mobile enough for most providers, KLAS said. One hundred percent of GE customers say they would buy the Logiq E9 again.

Philips customers generally feel the units perform very well on most scan types and offer excellent technology; however, the system's mobility is not highly rated. And although Toshiba customers are generally pleased with cost, reliability and image quality, newer customers are not as happy with implementation and training. They too are less satisfied with mobility and the ease of use.

"New research presented at the 2011 American Institute of Ultrasound annual meeting revealed that partially substituting ultrasound for CT scans in evaluating appendicitis alone could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $1.2 billion annually," said Crane. "This is financially significant and should lead to greater numbers of ultrasound scans being performed. Providers need to determine what matters most to them, and then select the ultrasound system that will best satisfy their imaging requirements."

Ultrasound customers are always looking for new technology, and the 'buzz' in 2011 is focused around breast imaging, but there are a number of features to consider, KLAS said. Some providers want low prices, dependable service and thorough training. Others are looking for technical innovations such as image fusion, elastography and 3D/4D applications. As providers ramp up and broaden their use of ultrasound across specialties, it will be easier for them to determine which services they value most highly.