Is it possible for organizations to strike the right balance between technology adoption and controlling cost to meet current needs?
Even before COVID-19 swept the globe, the balancing act of managing costs while maintaining value was at the forefront of imaging technology purchasing decisions. While the roller coaster effect of the pandemic threw this balancing act in sharp relief, many challenges existed before, and will continue long after, the pandemic subsides.
Some of these challenges are inherent in the economic model of radiology. To stay on the cutting edge, hospitals invest in new technology that often pays off only when that technology is fully incorporated in day-to-day practice. Although the fast pace of technological advances is what makes radiology such a rewarding field of medicine, it is also what makes it expensive to stay on top of – and indeed, in front of – various trends.
Radiologists are also contending with increasing patient demand and continuing staff shortages, which express themselves in backlogs that demand new approaches to throughput. In addition, changes in government regulations can have a significant effect on technology return on investment, as well as system upkeep. For example, the impact of a new administration and resulting legislation on reimbursement in the United States, the Brexit-triggered customs checks and controls in commerce between Great Britain and the rest of Europe, and limitations caused by economic sanctions on certain countries in the Middle East and Africa all add to the complexities of imaging technology purchases.
So how can organizations achieve the right balance between adopting new technology and containing cost, while meeting the current challenges of the pandemic and future-proofing their operations?
Know what you are measuring
First, it is important to know what you are measuring. Cost and value can be assessed in many ways, and you must redefine purchasing factors in a way that reflects the reality of your world today. Relying on traditional definitions can result in missteps that hamper your ability to manage costs and respond to patient and referrers' needs.
Purchase price is an important element to consider in every purchase decision. But in addition to the purchase price, radiology leaders include the cost of integration, new personnel and training, maintenance, and replacement parts in their evaluation of the cost of ownership. They balance this cost with the cost of lost opportunities if they cannot keep up with growing patient volumes or lose referrals to competitors with more up-to-date equipment.
Radiology departments are starting to redefine ownership, as well. Instead of business models marked by monumental investments in expensive equipment, organizations can seek more flexible models to mitigate risk. This could mean engaging in models that offer reimbursable trade-ins, rentable equipment, or pay-per-scan models.
Related Content: What to Consider When Purchasing New Radiology Equipment
Another alternative is refurbished equipment, which offers same-as-new systems at a lower cost. Because these systems have been meticulously restored by vendors and can often be upgraded with the latest software, they may be nearly indistinguishable from new systems. Refurbished systems can give you access to advanced technology at a lower total-cost-of-ownership.
COVID-19 has shown first-hand the importance of reducing downtime of imaging systems – time that departments cannot afford when there are patients in critical need plus an increasing volume of elective imaging.
While downtime is often thought of as that time in which an imaging system is in need of maintenance or repair, it is more useful to define it as that time when a system cannot be used. Under this new definition, many small, but controllable, factors can be causing downtime that limits your throughput. For example, a CT system may be in perfect working order, but still require significant time between exams for the X-ray tube to cool down. A system that uses CT tubes with liquid metal bearings reduces the need for cooling, which can add up to additional slots to schedule exams.
When evaluating MRI scanners, take into consideration the downtime of patient set-up. The fastest imaging protocols available cannot make up for time lost with unwieldy, uncomfortable, or difficult-to-position coils, for example. Creating a friendly atmosphere and educating technologists on how to put patients at ease can also reduce the time when the scanner is not in use, improving throughput and helping you to avoid backlogs.
Redefine vendor relationships
If you expect your vendors to be by your side only until systems are installed, you are missing out on valuable expertise that can help you extract the full value from your systems. Ask your equipment vendors about value-added services, such as workflow analysis or continuing education opportunities. Connect with them at conventions and webinars to gain insights into trends and opportunities.
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Defining vendors only as original equipment manufacturers is also a mistake. Independent service organizations (ISOs) can respond quickly to your needs and supply you with necessary replacement parts, providing a valuable alternative to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) service. In my position at Dunlee, I am surprised how often I find organizations that have never considered using OEM-equivalent parts and ISOs for less expensive, but equally effective, replacement parts and maintenance service.
Maximizing the lifetime value of products and solutions frees capital for new expenditures, and smart asset management enables growth without breaking budgets. With these new definitions, you'll be well positioned to respond to the challenges of the cost/value balancing act.
About the author
Guido Stoeckmann is regional sales manager at Dunlee. He draws on more than three decades in the medical imaging business, in both service and sales, to provide customers with technology solutions and seasoned advice.
Dunlee has over 100 years’ experience in developing, producing and integrating innovative components for imaging systems. Serving both the OEM and replacement markets, Dunlee offers a comprehensive portfolio of reliable X-ray tubes, high voltage generators, detectors and product packages for CT, as well as solutions for interventional radiology, MRI and nuclear medicine. It offers support during development and throughout the product lifecycle, contributing to its customers’ efficient production and go-to-market strategies.