Digital panels that convert old analogue systems into digital X-ray machines will become cheaper as competition among manufacturers further drives down prices, according to a new report.
As a result, retrofit X-ray kits will become "big business" as cost-conscious providers in austerity-wracked European countries and mid-tier developing countries, such as China, look for inexpensive ways to upgrade film equipment.
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According to British market research firm InMedica's predictions released this week, prices for retrofit X-ray kits will fall an estimated 5 to 10 percent a year under intense competition from the half dozen or so major manufacturers in the space. Demand for the products will also go up as OEMs have addressed supplier concerns about the fragility of still fairly expensive, and potentially droppable, devices.
Introduced about four years ago, retrofit X-ray kits are digital flat panel detectors that fit into the same slots used by film cassettes in X-ray rooms or mobile systems to turn them into digital devices at a discount. Rather than spending $180,000 for a new digital radiography room, a hospital could buy two retrofit panels for just over $100,000 to convert two analogue rooms, according to Stephen Holloway, a senior analyst with Wellingborough, England-based InMedica.
However, the current market is quite small. Holloway estimates retrofit X-rays make up no more than one-sixth of the total X-ray market by volume sold. Only around 1,000 units shipped in 2011, he said. But he expects this number to grow by 25 to 30 percent a year.
"Retrofitting of good quality analogue or adding retrofit panels to mobile is going to become big business because it's a cost-effective way to maintain a digital standard but still use equipment that's there," he told DOTmed News.
Prices will fall 5 percent to 10 percent a year, in part because of growing competition from manufacturers. The sector launched commercially in early 2009 with the DRX-1 by Carestream. But now Philips, GE, Konica Minolta, Fujifilm and Canon all make retrofit FPD devices. "It's becoming a lot more of a general market, rather than just (covered by) a few specialists," Holloway said.
And as the price approaches that of computed radiography, the technology becomes more attractive, especially to providers in middle-income countries, such as China, Brazil and India. Currently, a tethered retrofit flat panel detector runs about $55,000 to $60,000, and a wireless one around $70,000. By comparison, CR systems run from $10,000 to $30,000 for single-plate readers on the low end, up to $100,000 for multi-plate systems on the high end.
"Once (retrofit X-rays) get down to the $50,000 mark, they certainly become a more interesting prospect for (moderate income) regions," Holloway said.
Holloway said another factor helping to encourage the adoption of retrofit is that manufacturers have addressed suppliers' concerns that the FPD's are fragile.
"If you drop one, it's kind of an expensive replacement," Holloway said.
But newer generation models are stringently tested, covered in carbon fiber and generally drop-rated to endure falls of about 6 to 10 feet.
InMedica is a division of IMS Research, which is owned by IHS (NYSE: IHS), based in Englewood, Colo.