by Diana Bradley
, Staff Writer | May 29, 2012
From the May 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
Ultrasound’s rising popularity can be attributed to the fact that it is actually a very immature technology, according to Mullen. While this might seem like a negative, the technology’s immaturity is actually leading to substantial improvements in clinical outcomes.
“Every year, ultrasound is better than it was before in a really dramatic way,” says Mullen. “Even comparing ultrasound images from this year and two years ago, the difference is clear.”
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Driving demand for ultrasound is an increase in research and development, low costs for health care services fueling medical tourism growth, foreign investments in the health care sector, and a rise in the number of people suffering from chronic diseases that require early diagnosis via ultrasound.
Even amidst the gloomy economy, ultrasound is thriving. Some health care facilities are specifically updating their ultrasound portfolios to get ready for health care reform’s anticipated repercussions.
“Contrary to the rest of the health care environment where we are seeing hospitals freezing up their assets for purchasing heavy iron, we are still seeing growth in ultrasound, says Elhihi. “Although the number of ultrasound systems grew in 2011, we are not seeing a huge increase in the number of procedures ultrasound is used for. This is because people are getting ready for [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act], and with it, a large influx of people that will come into the hospital.”
Unsurprisingly, the sector is rife with competition, but even though competition is fierce, there are fewer and fewer companies fighting for customers due to a high rate of consolidation. Fuji bought Sonosite; South Korean ultrasound manufacturer Medison Co. was purchased by Samsung. In the meantime, smaller companies on the market are also getting ready for acquisition.
“There are just too many competitors out there,” says Elhihi. “In the next couple of years, there will be further consolidation in the ultrasound market.”
The low-cost, flexibility and safety of ultrasound will further increase future adoption into new markets, replacing current medical imaging standards and setting new ones, according to Stephen Holloway, market analyst for research firm InMedica.
“For many physicians, it is no longer a question of ‘why use ultrasound?’ rather a question of ‘when and how can I use ultrasound?’” says Holloway.
Pocket-sized ultrasound machines
Portable ultrasounds are increasingly called on to combat financial and spatial constraints. However, evolving technologies, while seeming to hold promise, are not proving practical for most providers just yet.