Increased throughput could determine success of digital mammography

September 5, 2001

For years, proponents of digital mammography have focused on the inherent cost-effectiveness of digital mammography. But that may not be its best selling point. Increased efficiency and its effect on patient throughput could be the keys that open the

For years, proponents of digital mammography have focused on the inherent cost-effectiveness of digital mammography. But that may not be its best selling point. Increased efficiency and its effect on patient throughput could be the keys that open the door to booming sales of these units.

A University of Colorado/University of Massachusetts study has demonstrated that digital mammography systems achieved a lower recall rate and a lower rate of biopsy referrals than conventional screen-film products. Specifically, the study showed that the number of women called in for follow-up diagnostic mammography was 3% lower for digital mammography compared with screen-film mammography. The number of patients referred for biopsy was 34% lower.

Translated into dollars and cents, the lower recall rate could save several hundred million dollars annually, according to Morgan Nields, CEO of Fischer Imaging. About $700 million more could be saved from a lower biopsy rate, said Nields, who spoke in late August at the International Society for Strategic Studies in Radiology meeting in San Francisco. These savings will be bolstered further by the higher rate of Medicare reimbursement for screening exams conducted on digital machines compared with screen-film systems-$155 versus $88.50, if Medicare proposals go through as expected.

Whether these savings and increased reimbursements will be enough to convince providers to buy digital systems, however, is not known. The systems cost about $500,000, compared with about $80,000 for a screen-film system.

To date, sales have been sluggish, but that may be the result of several factors. The increased Medicare reimbursement afforded digital systems has not yet taken effect, and only GE Medical Systems offers U.S. customers a full-field digital mammography system. The number of vendors may soon be increased, however, as Fischer Imaging has received an approvable letter from the FDA for its full-field digital mammography system, SenoScan (SCAN 8/8/01).

Fischer is banking on the increased throughput that might be achieved by using digital technology to win customer acceptance for its SenoScan. Digital systems can handle up to 80 patients per day, double the 40 patients typically examined daily on a conventional system, Nields said. The difference could translate into $300,000 of additional revenue per year.

“Digital may take mammography from the economic ghetto that it has occupied for the past 10 years,” he said.