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Mobile MRI services reap benefits of a down market

by Cristen Bolan , Medical Journalist
This report originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of DOTmed Business News

Much of the mobile MRI market today may look like it is standing idle, as many dealers have chosen to optimize their investments by refurbishing old equipment rather than making new acquisitions. This strategy, however, has been a boon to supporting services, such as transport, trailer refurbishment, maintenance and storage.

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Meanwhile, the sector is showing renewed signs of life, as health care facilities anticipate an influx of demand in medical imaging and prepare to upgrade their technology and ramp up their capacity with the new mobile MRI units.

Mobility in the market
There is no question that the economic slowdown has affected the mobile medical industry. Over the last couple of years, the volume of MRI imaging at hospitals has reached a plateau, and new equipment acquisitions have tapered off. In their place, more facilities are refurbishing existing units rather than investing in new ones.

“There has been less demand for mobile medical units this year. This has created more supply, which has pushed down the prices,” says Dave Neally, chief operating officer of Shared Imaging, a provider of medical mobile units. “It's a buyer's market right now. It's an excellent time to buy equipment; however, the market is starting to come back."

Health care decisions
According to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan, the economic recession and changes in health care policy have caused the U.S. MRI and CT scanner markets to shrink. These adverse conditions are compounded by the lingering effects of reimbursement cuts imposed by the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005, which will to lead to greater consolidation of advanced imaging facilities the reports says.

However, many mobile MRI experts believe new health care provisions may work in favor of the MRI mobile market. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, effective January 2011, raises utilization rates from 50 to 75 percent for all imaging equipment costing over $1 million. This could make many imaging centers unprofitable thereby eliminating some of the competition for the mobile MRI industry.

"The utilization rate requirement will play in our favor because some imaging centers will take some of the magnets offline and will have to move that magnet out. If the demand moves from imaging centers to the hospital to meet utilization rates, that will bode well for mobile services," says Neally. "The reduction of imaging centers will favor mobile units."

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