CT scan growth rate slows from early 2000s heyday: report

June 05, 2012
by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor
The growth in CT scan procedure volume has slowed from its early 2000s boom, although most health care providers predict they'll perform more scans this year than last, according to a new market research survey on hospitals and free-standing imaging centers.

Hospital-based providers also say that among their biggest challenges are dealing with an influx of emergency-room patients and working with declining reimbursements. And most buyers say they're looking to purchase a CT scanner with 64 or more slices.

In a report teaser released Tuesday, market research firm IMV said CT scan procedure volume grew an estimated 4 percent from 2010 to 2011, well down from the torrid growth rate it enjoyed at the turn of the millennium. However, estimates show nearly twice as many procedures were performed in 2011 than a decade ago.

According to IMV, CT volume grew from an estimated 81.9 million procedures in 2010 to 85.3 million in 2011. But in a 2003 census of CT sites, IMV estimated CT volume grew from 39.6 million procedures in 2001 to 45.4 million in 2002, a growth rate of nearly 15 percent. From 2002 to 2003, the procedure volume grew a further 10 percent, according to a 2005 IMV estimate.

Nonetheless, most respondents to the survey, which polled radiology administrators, expected this year to be busier than the one before.

“While CT procedure growth has slowed compared to a decade ago, 58 percent of the surveyed sites indicated that they anticipate their procedures will grow in 2012 compared to 2011, and an additional 34 percent anticipate that their procedures will stay at the same level this year,” Lorna Young, senior director of market research with IMV, said in a statement.

From inpatient to outpatient

Although procedure volumes are still growing, if not as fast as they used to, Medicare and third-party reimbursements are in decline, the report said. Plus, hospital-based radiology departments are struggling to keep up with an increasing number of ER patients. Nearly 80 percent of hospital-based respondents said managing emergency patients was a "major priority," according to the report.

To alleviate pressure from ER patients, and to take advantage of the more "attractive" reimbursement rates for hospitals over independent offices, hospitals are shifting outpatients to imaging centers they own, according to the report.

"We are seeing increased buying activity by hospitals for imaging centers they will own/manage, and faster increases in CT procedure volume in these imaging centers, compared to freestanding imaging centers," Young said.

According to IMV, outpatient and ER volume accounted for 82 percent of the total CT volume in 2011, up from 66 percent in 2001. Inpatient volume was 18 percent, down from 34 percent in 2001.

More slices, less contrast media

Interestingly, contrast media use also fell. About 67 percent of CT procedures used contrast media in 2007. Last year, it was down to 53 percent, the report said.

Also of note, although radiation exposure has featured prominently in news coverage of CT technology over the past few years, most respondents to the survey didn't think it was helping to contract CT procedure growth. Only 10 percent of survey respondents said they "totally agreed" that public fears over radiation exposure would restrict growth at their institution, although 75 percent said reducing radiation exposure to patients was a "very important" departmental priority.

For those planning on buying CT scanners between now and 2015, two-thirds want a system with 64 or more slices. The average replacement cycle is 8.9 years, IMV said.

The report estimates 13,775 fixed CT scanners are at work at 8,465 sites across the country.

IMV's "2012 CT Market Outlook Report" was answered by 405 radiology administrators nationwide and extrapolated to the rest of the country. IMV is based in Des Plaines, Ill., and its medical information group has been around for about 35 years.