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Average MRI Scanner Nearing Adolescence


Magnetic resonance imaging scanners are getting older, but the majority of imaging facilities are not yet seeking to replace them.

How old is your MRI scanner? If it seems that your scanner has always been there, you’re not alone. According to a report by IMV Medical Division, the average age of MRI scanners in the United States has risen to 11.4 years as of 2013. And, although technology is improving, most MRI users surveyed do not plan on replacing their systems anytime soon.

There was a spike of new MRI installations from 2002 to 2004, but no such spike has occurred since, researchers said.

“The research finds that the market is ready for replacement of the older units that are at the end of their useful lives,” said Lorna Young, senior director of market research at IMV. However, only 20 percent of all MRI users plan on purchasing a new system within the next three years and only 24 percent are considering such a purchase.

The IMV report was based on survey responses from 450 MRI administrators across the U.S.

Newer machines are faster, can broaden clinical applications to address referring physician needs, and improve patient comfort, so replacing older scanners would be ideal. However, many respondents cite cost as the main factor in not buying new systems. Independent imaging centers, those owned by physician practices, were hard hit by the economic slowdown and reductions in Medicare and third-party payors caused MRI revenues to decline, despite the fact that more MRIs were performed overall.

The average growth rate of MRI procedures is 2.8 percent per year. Currently, the most common scans are of the spine, brain, and lower and upper extremities, but the areas of biggest growth are breast, prostate, vascular (MR angiography), and pelvis and abdominal procedures. Together, these grew almost 50 percent from 5.3 million in 2011 to 7.9 million in 2013.

There was a temporary dip in 2011 in the number of procedures performed that require contrast - down from 41 percent in 2001 to 37 percent. This drop may have been related to a 2009 FDA regulation for changes in the drug label for gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) to minimize the risk of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, a rare but serious condition associated with the use of GCBAs. The rate began to rise again shortly after and reached 43 percent in 2013.

Newer MRI systems that have 3.0-tesla units comprise more than one-quarter of planned MRI purchases, but most facilities are still purchasing the 1.5-tesla units. Providers who are looking to buy new systems are also planning to take advantage of the wider bore sizes and higher magnet field strengths that are now available, the report said.

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