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Special report: Densitometry

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | August 30, 2013
From the July 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

No bones about it?
The need for a complete understanding of body composition is one possible reason the scans have not yet become widespread in imaging centers rather than wellness centers. While Stickler can guess a person’s body composition with the naked eye, many radiologists may not be as familiar with the process or the readouts the software creates.

But because body composition scans are paid for out-of-pocket, they can become an additional source of revenue for imaging centers that’s relatively easy to incorporate. As all DXA scanners can perform body composition studies, there’s no special hardware or software required — facilities just need someone who can decipher the scans.

“You need someone working within your office that’s an expert at body composition so that then they can interpret the results for the patients in a way that they’ll understand, so it’s not just data being shoved at you,” says Parker. He notes that results are provided in the metric system, so his team converts the data for his American customers.

Parker says he hopes future readouts will include more consumer-friendly formatting.

Because DXA scanners are not specifically designed for body composition, Parker has found a few additional changes he hopes to see incorporated into future designs. He says the table can’t accommodate some larger patients, as it fits a height of up to six-foot-four and 450 pounds.

Additionally, as stated earlier, body comp scans are not covered by insurance, posing another challenge to introducing the scans into a practice.

“You can be 500 pounds and dying of heart disease, or dying of anorexia, and they will not pay for a DXA,” says Parker. “The business model isn’t built on making money.”

When Parker decided to invest in Hologic scanners, he says he discussed with the company how to make its bottom line work while providing almost exclusively body comp studies rather than bone density scans. He’s been successful, but his kind of center seems to be a rarity. Currently, the Washington Institute of Sports Management is the only Hologic “center of excellence” for body comp.

Diversifying DXA
Despite potential challenges in providing scans outside of dedicated centers and health clubs, the tool holds potential for a wide range of patient populations.

“I think that DXA is probably the clinical gold standard for body composition assessment, and there are three really good uses for that today,” says Dr. Neil Binkley, co-director of the Osteoporosis Clinical Center & Research Program at the University of Wisconsin. “The first is obesity and management of obesity. The second is sports performance, and the third, is sarcopenia, the age related loss of muscle mass and muscle function that happens to us as we get older.”

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