Whether you’re in a stand-alone imaging center or part of a hospital-based group or department, you’ll face the same problem eventually—the need to purchase equipment.
There is much to consider financially and clinically when deciding what to buy, industry experts say. And, the choice is highly individualized based on your clinical needs and financial parameters.
Whether you’re in an urban facility that uses specialized equipment or a rural community setting that needs machines for more generalized studies, keeping these factors in mind can help you make effective purchasing decisions.
What To Consider
Budgeting correctly for a purchase requires more than simply earmarking money, says Murat Gungor, senior vice president of diagnostic imaging for North America at Siemens Healthineers. There are several other factors to consider.
Existing assets: Analyze your current equipment, he says, and consider replacing old machines with new ones that offer better clinical outcomes.
Backlog: If you have too many patients waiting for appointments, consider adding another machine or replacing yours with a higher-performing model. Just be sure patient demand warrants the purchase, Gungor says.
Referrals: Determine if providers are sending you referrals. If there’s a drop off, investigate why. If the problem is image quality, opt to budget for new equipment, he says.
Competition: Purchasing equipment to offer services unavailable elsewhere can grow your referral base and bolster your revenue stream. But, make sure new equipment expenses don’t outweigh purchase costs.
Recruitment: Quality equipment attracts quality providers, Gungor says. Strong providers will be more enticed to work with you if you offer advanced equipment rather than outdated machines.
Workflow: Examine your workflow, says Sarah Verna, worldwide marketing manager for X-ray solutions with Carestream, to determine where your existing equipment is falling short and where you need new benefits.
Identifying the costs associated with new equipment is relatively easy, says David Myrice, director of practice management at Zotec Partners. Obtain quotes on purchase prices and maintenance costs, as well as information about warranties, and use that data to determine your monthly payment.
“Your cost outflow is a mathematical formulation,” he says. “What’s more subjective and much more difficult—where you’re liable to make mistakes—is with your revenue side.”
When considering a new purchase, your potential revenue totals are unclear, and over-estimating can create problems. To help you determine how much you can realistically spend, plot out worst case, likely case, and best-case scenarios for how your revenue stream might change. Resist the temptation, he says, to focus on only the best possible outcomes. Instead, base purchasing decisions on the most realistic numbers to identify how risky the purchase might be.
What To Buy
Once you decide to purchase, your budgetary constraints will largely determine whether you can afford new equipment or if you’ll need to buy a refurbished model.
If you purchase new, Gungor says, it’s imperative you purchase an upgradable machine.
“As an investor, it’s never wise to purchase a unit that is dead-end,” he says. “You want to see scalability. Buying a platform that can be altered is extremely critical. You might not need cardiac functionality today, but you might want it tomorrow.”
In some instances, though, upgrades aren’t possible. For example, purchase digital equipment to replace analog.
Refurbished models, overall, offer you new model functionalities, just in older, more affordable packages. Each vendor rebuilds and certifies machines to their quality standards, but you must work closely to ensure older models fit your visual and clinical needs.
“Your medical equipment is the face of your practice and your services. You don’t want scratches or missing pieces or dents,” he says. “You can get great results with refurbished equipment, but when you buy it, be sure it has the latest software. You don’t want to make clinical compromises.”
In fact, Myrice says, discuss your clinical needs before broaching your financial limit. Always choose equipment that exceeds your requirements.
“We’re in the business of medicine, and good medicine is good business,” he says. “Patient care and product quality have to be foremost in discussions. Then, you can look at money. If a product doesn’t bring you up to speed clinically, it’s not worth having the financial discussion.
“Look at upgrading costs and if it’s even possible to bring the current equipment up to the standard of new technology,” Myrice says. “Knowing your current procedure volume and whether upgrading or replacing will increase it can help you determine how a purchase fits within your budget.”
Mistakes to Avoid
If you plan thoroughly and objectively analyze your practice’s needs, you’re unlikely to make a mistake, Myrice says. Choose your purchases carefully because once you buy the equipment, you’ll take a significant loss if you have to sell it.
Still, it’s possible to run into pitfalls, Gungor says.
“It’s never a good idea to be overly optimistic with these purchases. You must choose the right goal projections, and not estimating your referrals correctly can throw things off when you have a new system installed,” he says. “You can’t just choose a system that is good enough and on the lower end of what you think you’ll need. You’ll quickly realize you’re making a lot of clinical compromises. You’ll miss patients and referrals, and it will become a major problem.”
To avoid this issue, says Todd Minnigh, Carestream’s vice president of global service sales, you should frequently analyze what you already have on-hand. It will help you avoid over-purchasing.
“All facilities should do an assessment of what they need and what equipment must be replaced. Then, they can compare costs with their budget and decide which systems will serve them well,” he says. “They may benefit from an annual strategic review to see what systems need to be replaced, what they can still use, and what they can squeeze a few more years out of.”
Ultimately, Myrice says, making the right equipment decisions boils down to knowing what your patients require.
“You must look at your clinical needs,” he says. “Evaluate your business and think about strategy when you want to upgrade your system, replace it, or change the way you’re doing things.”