"We think some customers, although they may have one or two 64s, don't need every scanner to be a 64," said Steidley, Ph.D., Philips vice president of CT global marketing. "So there was a movement toward the 16. This flight to value was driven a little bit by the uncertainty surrounding the CMS decision."
This was apparent in the fourth quarter, when vendors pocketed some $85 million from the shipment of new 16-slice scanners compared with about $80 million in 4Q 06, according to industry estimates. And these numbers do not include the many preowned 16-slice scanners that were also purchased. But this trend may be over, according to Steidley.
"People are now thinking twice about investing in 16, knowing that in five years there will be a lot of 256s out there and that 16 will be at the low end of the spectrum," he said.
The coming breed of CTs, generating volumes of data drawn from 256 or more slices, will not, however, take the market by storm, as did
their predecessors. The extraordinary power of these systems will be overkill for any but the most daunting clinical applications. And their $2 million-plus price tags will be too much for any but the few providers who perform them.
At the other end of the spectrum, the 16s will serve as entry-level scanners. Helping to keep them in the game will be growing demand for virtual colonoscopy, which has been gaining interest on the heels of positive clinical results.
This may create a three-tiered system, with the workhorse 64s stuck in between, much like open MR was once bookended by low- and high-field scanners. Unlike MR, the CT market will be segmented by exponents of slices.
The market may stabilize, which will come as a welcome relief from the decade of lurching forward and back with the introduction of each successive generation of scanner.
—By Greg Freiherr