The ultrasound market appears to be going strong in 2012, with healthcare providers expressing contentment with their systems and predicting increased usage for the future. This is the general sentiment expressed in a recent report by KLAS entitled, “Ultrasound 2012: Technology Improved, Usage Amplified,” published in June.
One area of increasing use is in the emergency department (ED), the report notes, as clinicians choose ultrasound over computed tomography (CT) and other modalities with ionizing radiation because of concerns about dose. “Not only does ultrasound use no dose, but it is also cheaper and quicker in most cases,” the report summary says — all factors especially important in an ED setting.
Ultrasound also is seeing more use in breast imaging. “Improved technology and better images are leading women’s imagers to use ultrasound for breast imaging,” the report states. Providers using different vendors’ systems are well satisfied with the image quality, with one provider indicating that their ultrasound produces images with such varied shades of gray that they are close to a magnetic resonance (MR) image. Some systems do require some tweaking on the back end to obtain good quality, however.
When it comes to image quality, many providers interviewed for the report give credit for their high quality to the probes. Providers like having a large selection of probes from which to choose, and one said, “We can never have too many.”
“Probes are the number-one technology providers are interested in, and probes make a big difference in how well an ultrasound machine performs,” the report says.
Also important in the choice of an ultrasound system are ergonomics and mobility. Besides the comfort level afforded by a system’s probes, the ease of adjustability of the keyboard and monitors is important to clinicians. And since most ultrasound systems are constantly on the move, either to different departments, to patients’ bedsides, throughout the ED or within tight spaces like an operating room or intensive care unit, mobility is always an important factor for providers. The improved mobility of units today contributes to their increasing use in the ED, the report says.
A final factor of importance to providers is minimizing downtime and getting quick service when there is a system breakdown. Downtime causes major headaches, but KLAS notes most vendors are meeting providers’ need for reliability. While some score higher than others in their response time to problems, providers overall are satisfied.
Recent Market Additions
There have been changes that can affect the ultrasound market since KLAS issued its report. One was the August announcement by Siemens Healthcare that it is acquiring the assets of Penrith Corp., which manufactures integrated ultrasound systems and has expertise in miniaturization of devices.
Jeffrey Bundy, CEO of Siemens’ ultrasound business unit, said, “This acquisition positions Siemens to bring new, meaningful solutions to the ultrasound market and to expand our presence in attractive business segments.”
Ultrasound may get another boost as the result of an initiative called “Ultrasound First,” launched by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) last spring. It is designed “to call attention to the safe, effective and affordable advantages of ultrasound as an alternative to other imaging modalities that are more costly and/or emit radiation.”
In announcing the initiative, AIUM said, “For a growing number of clinical conditions, ultrasound has been shown to be equally effective in its diagnostic capability, with a distinct advantage in safety and cost over computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Despite this advantage, evidence suggests that ultrasound is vastly underutilized.”
Ultrasound First will be focused on educating healthcare workers, medical educators and others about the benefits of ultrasound in medical care and to provide clinical evidence for its use. AIUM will host an Ultrasound First Forum in November discussing the expanding role of ultrasound as a “first” imaging examination, focusing on the diagnostic capabilities, safety and reduced cost of ultrasound as compared to other imaging modalities.
“Many healthcare workers and insurers are unacquainted with the range of conditions for which ultrasound has been shown to have superior diagnostic capabilities,” said AIUM President Alfred Abuhamad, M.D. “Disseminating this knowledge to healthcare workers and incorporating ultrasound in medical protocols where scientific evidence has shown its diagnostic efficacy will undoubtedly improve patient safety and reduce cost. The time to act is now.”
AIUM is working with the Society of Ultrasound in Medical Education (SUSME) to promote widespread integration of ultrasound education into medical school curricula and postgraduate continuing medical education activities. To underscore these efforts, they proclaimed 2013 as the Year of Ultrasound. itn