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Mobile PET relieves hardship for rural cancer patients

by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | June 18, 2019
Molecular Imaging
From the June 2019 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

"There wasn't anything wrong with our first long-time provider," said Lane. “But we have progressed to the point where we need to adapt the business model to serve our operational and clinical needs better."

The mobile PET unit arrives on Thursday night in time to set up for Pioneer’s Friday scanning, after which it is withdrawn and moved on to the next site. Lane said the hospital went with a mobile solution because of both the lack of space and the overall cost of a fixed unit — about $2.5 million, he said. Also, there hasn’t been enough volume to justify an on-site unit.

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With the new provider, they switch from a pass-through billing model to a fee-per-scan business arrangement. The hospital now handles the authorization and the scheduling through the vendor web portal, paying the PET vendor a fee per scan and then billing the patients in accordance with CMS guidelines.

“It’s not that we’re clearing very much money, but it’s more than before,” explained Lane. “We had just been doing it as a service to the community.”

He said they used to perform PET scans on patients every other Friday, but with the enhanced support from its new vendor, the hospital has ramped up to weekly operations.

The mobile unit travels about 200 miles from Los Angeles every week and, according to Lane, the only site requirements for utilizing mobile PET services are a parking space convenient to the hospital, a 480v electrical hook-up, a phone line and network connectivity to send images to the PACS system. Unlike in his early career, when he started out driving mobile imaging units in South Dakota and Minnesota, professional drivers move the rig — not the techs.

Todd C. Lane
Imaging agents for the PET studies are delivered by a radiopharmaceutical vendor from San Diego, with doses calibrated to account for the 100-mile travel time. There is a 4,000-foot pass between Brawley and San Diego that can get inclement weather at times. This past winter they did have to cancel PET scans when the radiopharmaceutical delivery could not make it over the pass due to snow. But, Lane said, that’s unusual.

The hospital is now looking at expanding its PET offering — as well as perhaps mobile CT and MR — to its urgent care site 30 miles south in Calexico, California.

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