KLAS: Newer CT scanners are a tough sell in a tough economy

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Healthcare imaging vendors offering next-generation CT scanners face a difficult task in helping healthcare providers see the value of adopting these advanced systems, according to a new report from market research firm KLAS.

Currently, each of the major medical imaging device vendors in the United States--GE Healthcare, Philips Healthcare, Siemens Healthcare and Toshiba America Medical Systems--is touting CT scanners that go beyond the capabilities of traditional 16- and 64-slice units, purporting to offer better images, greater cardiac capability and a lower radiation dose, KLAS said.

While these advanced systems are positively impacting patient care in some areas, such as cardiac work and pediatric imaging, a new KLAS report found that most healthcare providers do not yet see a real need for next-generation CT.

"Many providers view CT as largely a commodity technology," said Ben Brown, general manager of imaging informatics for KLAS and author of the report. "Other than a few differentiating features, traditional CT-slice technologies are similar from a technical standpoint. Most provider organizations readily admit that the common CT platforms perform a fairly broad and uniform set of examinations, regardless of the manufacturer. There are some minor differences, but all the vendors deliver a similar portfolio of functionality."

Because of that similarity, customer service is the biggest differentiator between CT vendors and systems. KLAS said that the availability of parts and service, responsiveness to support issues, training resources and the implementation of new software upgrades generally have a greater impact on a provider's perception of its CT vendor than features or functions. Further, the commonality among CT systems also means that hospitals are increasingly willing to take a chance on another vendor's product if unscheduled downtime has impacted revenue or simply to take advantage of an aggressive pricing package.

Among 16-slice systems, KLAS found that the Siemens Emotion 16 scanner was the top-rated product, earning a performance score of 90.7 out of 100, followed very closely by the Toshiba Aquilion 16 (90). In the 64-slice market, the Toshiba Aquilion 64 achieved the top performance score of 91.3, followed by GE LightSpeed VCT 64 (89.7). The report also highlights the performance of CT offerings from Philips, as well as next-generation systems from all four major vendors.

As for moving to advanced CT scanners beyond 64 slices, providers are clear that establishing a well-defined return on investment is essential, particularly in light of the challenging economy and the fact that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) do not yet reimburse for coronary CT work, which is a principle driver for moving beyond 64 slices. Still, most providers are optimistic about policy changes that will make building a case for next-generation CT much easier.

As one chair of radiology put it, "I think CMS likely will provide reimbursement for coronary CT angiography in the near future. When that occurs, there will be a rush to acquire the technology that accommodates that work," according to the report.