Report: Nuclear medicine volume stagnates

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Total nuclear medicine procedures have been relatively flat, and trending slightly downward, from 2007 to 2010, according to a report from IMV Medical Information Division.

In 2007, there were 17.2 million nuclear medicine procedures performed with SPECT or SPECT/CT in the U.S., compared with an estimated 17 million procedures in 2010, according to IMV.

“We attribute this zero growth in procedures to several factors, including the impact of pre-authorization requirements from health insurance companies, as well as competing technologies, such as bone studies shifting to PET, and myocardial perfusion studies shifting to other modalities,” Lorna Young, senior director of market research for IMV Medical Information Division, said in a statement. “Another issue involved is the availability of molybdenum, the precursor to technetium-99m, which created much uncertainty in 2009 and 2010 about the supply of radiopharmaceuticals needed for myocardial perfusion and other nuclear medicine studies.”

IMV’s study also showed that physician practices, primarily cardiology practices, are feeling financial pressure due to reductions in reimbursement from Medicare and third-party payors. Hospital nuclear medicine department directors are not as likely to rate this as a top issue. As a result, almost one-third of physician offices surveyed by IMV were considering or planning a change in their practice ownership structure to have a joint venture with hospitals.

Other findings of the report:

  • One-third of nuclear imaging sites are physician office locations, though only one in six planned camera purchases through 2013 are from physician offices.
  • Dual-head SPECT cameras are the preferred camera type being considered, comprising almost half of planned purchases, but SPECT/CT is on the rise, comprising one-third of planned cameras.
  • Cardiovascular studies make up 87 percent of nuclear imaging procedures in non-hospital locations, compared with 47 percent in hospitals.
  • Neurology applications are provided in one-fourth of sites currently, but this may grow to one-third by 2013.
  • Waiting times for nuclear imaging have decreased, with 43 percent of sites currently reporting wait times of more than a day, down from 77 percent in 2003.

IMV’s report is based on responses from 433 nuclear medicine department/facility managers nationwide.