Hospitals scrimp for MRI, delay other purchases

February 12, 1992

U.S. hospitals that wish to purchase MRI systems find they mustskimp elsewhere in order to afford the high-ticket scanners. Institutionsare stretching the useful lives of ultrasound and general imagingequipment beyond the point of obsolescence so they

U.S. hospitals that wish to purchase MRI systems find they mustskimp elsewhere in order to afford the high-ticket scanners. Institutionsare stretching the useful lives of ultrasound and general imagingequipment beyond the point of obsolescence so they can affordMRI, according to a recent survey of hospital purchase patterns.

The telephone survey of 3135 acute care hospitals, conductedlast year by Comdisco Medical Leasing Group, found that 17% areequipped with fixed-site MRI. Three of every four units operatingat the 533 hospitals had been installed in the past three years.

Survey results indicate that hospitals have had to stint onother diagnostic imaging purchases to afford their MRI systems(see chart), said David L. Sook, senior marketing manager at Chicago-basedComdisco.

"Other modalities are suffering (because of) the costof MRI," he said.

Hospital-based ultrasound has been hit particularly hard. TheComdisco survey found the average system is about five years old.

"Considering how swiftly ultrasound technology has changed,hospitals are hanging on to these systems longer than they should,"Sook said.

High-end ultrasound systems have become more upgradable overthe past several years. System performance can be enhanced throughchanges in software and some hardware.

Hospitals are also stringing out the useful life of their radiography/fluoroscopyequipment. About 94% percent of all U.S. hospitals have at leastone R/F room. The average hospital is equipped with a minimumof two units. About 83% of these units are at least three yearsold.

As expected, larger hospitals are more likely to own MRI thansmaller facilities. The market for new systems, however, is shiftingas hospitals with fewer than 400 beds catch up with their largersize competition. About 84% of 400-bed or larger hospitals areequipped with MRI, the survey said. Fifty-five percent of theseunits were installed after 1988.

Of hospitals with 151 to 399 beds, 39% have fixed-site MRIs.About 58% of the units were purchased in the past three years.Only 7% of hospitals with fewer than 150 beds reported that theyown or lease MRI. For those that have made the investment, 81%of the units were installed in the past three years.

The survey found investor-owned hospitals more likely to ownMRI than nonprofit facilities. About 23% of the for-profit hospitalsare equipped with the high-tech scanner, compared to 16% of thenonprofits.

"This could be (because) administrators at the investor-ownedhospital are more likely to see the profit opportunities in owningMRI," Sook said. "They see the importance MRI has indifferentiating them from their competition."

BRIEFLY NOTED:

  • Medical Diagnostics (MDI) of Burlington, MA, completedan initial public offering last month. The imaging services firmsold 1.35 million shares of common stock at $8.50 per share. MDIis listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

MDI provides mobile and freestanding MRI services in New Hampshire,Massachusetts and Maine. The company will use proceeds from itsIPO to buy MRI centers, purchase existing third-party interestsin its operating subsidiaries, finance equipment and working capital,and pay down debt.

Unlike many mobile MRI firms, MDI normally operates as a full-service,licensed medical provider. As such, it can market MRI servicesdirectly to physicians and third-party payers as well as to hospitals.