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Special report: MRI innovations are more personalized than ever

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | October 02, 2013
International Day of Radiology 2012
From the October 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

“Every iteration of the 3T is better and better at these difficult areas of MR, which are the abdomen and the heart,” says Siemens’ Clarkson.

Clarkson says he predicts that the market will continue to be dominated by 1.5T scanners, at least for the next three to five years. Currently, 3T scanners make up about 40 percent of the MRI order volume in dollars for Siemens. Because 3T and 1.5T scans are reimbursed at the same rate, Clarkson predicts that most centers will find it more fiscally responsible to stick with a 1.5T for now.

Philips, Toshiba and GE also report that they have seen a steady growth in 3T, though 1.5T has remained dominant.

The more powerful scanners are used frequently in research settings, however.

“I think in some cases, facilities might want a 3T to stay competitive,” says Tim Joseph, MR product manager at Toshiba. “There are also a lot of researchers who enjoy using 3T because of its inherently higher signal strength.”

Though 3T scanners are especially valuable for head and spine imaging, they’re now being used for full-body scanning as well. Toshiba’s latest 3T includes multi-phase transmission technology, which uses four points of RF transmission to provide even RF distribution in all parts of the body.

“It’s always been great for neuro and muscular skeletal imaging, but there were limitations that didn’t allow for the same image quality for full-body imaging,” says Toshiba’s Narayan. “The multi-phase transmission allows our customers to do abdominal imaging.”

Use it or lose it
Just because a facility is equipped with the latest scanner technology doesn’t mean it has to use it at every opportunity — that’s a lesson doctors are learning as they work to make care more patient-specific. Between 2008 and 2010, MRI utilization went down after rising steadily for a decade, according to an April 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“Doctors are becoming more aware that not every test is necessary,” says study author Richard Sharpe, MD, MBA. “Patients also tend to inquire about the medical necessity of diagnostic tests more than they have previously.”

If doctors are more carefully targeting the right patients for the right tests, that’s a good thing, Sharpe says. But the decrease in scans is a problem if important tests are overlooked because doctors are avoiding imaging indiscriminately.

While exam rates are decreasing overall, Sharpe and other researchers have noticed increases in certain areas. MRI for breast imaging, for example, has been steadily growing over the last 10 years, but studies suggest that doctors are still struggling to match the technology to the patients who need it most.

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