Study: U.S. MRI systems see rise in functionality

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The good news: MRI functionality these days is nothing short of “astounding” in regards to both scanners and coils, according to a report by Frost & Sullivan’s Medical Imaging group. The bad news: more tricks and gadgets cost money.

But this is the price of what appears to be a booming market for the system, which the research firm reports hit $1.40 billion for scanners and $118 million for coils in 2005, and estimates these to reach $2.9 billion and $317 million, respectively, by 2012. Thus, for vendors to increase their customer base, they will have to target fast-growing markets in diagnostic imaging centers and community hospitals, according to the company.

What factors have pushed the increase in functionality? Big advances in the MR angiography space, which includes neurovascular and peripheral vascular studies, have added greater insight into the physiology of blood vessels, the life-supply conduits for our bodies. Also, breast, prostate and liver cancer detection and diagnosis have all improved and gained prominence because of the range of procedures possible with current scanners. And MRI coils also are being integrated into systems that can image nearly every major body part.

“Welcome to the new MRI, where diagnostic capabilities can image blood vessels, brain fiber tracts and even small cancerous lesions,” said Subha B. Basu, research analyst. “The industry is also witnessing a fast growth in high field scanners as well as more consolidation of third-party coil manufacturers.”

Like lots of things, just because MRI systems have been around a while doesn’t mean that prices are coming down. Low-field systems range from about $600,000 to $1 million, with the higher end systems moving beyond the $1 million mark to $1.5 million and $2 million for ultra high-field systems, the company said.

Some manufacturers claim that users are getting more bang for their buck because the 2005 units included the latest in coil technology, faster scan times, and a wider amount of clinical applications, according to the study.

“Large clinical facilities have a combination of scanners to accommodate the breadth of patient exams,” said Basu. “But the high selling prices are still a major deterrent for buying decisions, especially when it’s a first-time buy or upgrading to a more advanced system.”

The research firm also suggests that vendors are looking to rising markets such as imaging centers to move more units in the future.