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Maxum updates fleet with purchases of GE MRI units


Mobile MRI is a fast-maturing market. More systems are on theroad today than ever, and they are chasing smaller hospital accounts.Since many MRI units were purchased in the heyday of mobile industrygrowth during the late 1980s, they are beginning to

Mobile MRI is a fast-maturing market. More systems are on theroad today than ever, and they are chasing smaller hospital accounts.Since many MRI units were purchased in the heyday of mobile industrygrowth during the late 1980s, they are beginning to creak withage, according to William L. MacKnight, president and CEO of Dallas-basedMaxum Health.

"Prices (for mobile MRI service) are clearly coming downas providers try to compete with older assets," MacKnighttold SCAN.

But smaller hospitals can't be wooed with lower prices alone.They want state-of-the-art technology at an affordable cost, hesaid.

Mobile providers can keep costs down with newer MRI systems. Maxumbelieves the GE MR Max, in particular, is well suited to servicesmall accounts in an economical fashion, MacKnight said.

The Max can be transported between sites without ramping down.This is important because mobile units must move more frequentlywhen hospital scan volumes are lower, he said.

Maxum, which used to be the largest customer for the Diasonics(now Toshiba) 0.35-tesla mobile MRI system, has switched chieflyto GE systems. The mobile firm returned eight of its older Toshibasystems to the lessors last month and purchased eight new MaxPlus scanners from GE in an arrangement that required no extracash, MacKnight said.

About 70% of Maxum's 43 MRI systems are now GE units. Toshibasystems, including some 0.5-tesla scanners, continue to accountfor 10% of Maxum's MRI base, with the remainder comprising Siemensand Picker systems, he said. Toshiba purchased the Diasonics MRIbusiness two years ago.

Toshiba appears to face a situation today similar to that encounteredby GE when it took over responsibility for Technicare's MRI equipmentsix years ago. Technicare users were concerned then about GE'scommitment to upgrade the Teslacon MRI equipment (SCAN 2/3/88).

Maxum has found similar concerns among its service customers whoused the older Diasonics machines. While the MRI systems continueto perform well in the field, users have felt uneasy with thetechnology. An advantage of the Max Plus is that it can be upgradedto the new GE Signa mid-field MRI system, MacKnight said.

"Our customer base was asking us to provide (new MRI systems);their preference being a mid-field product. GE was the name mostoften brought up," MacKnight said.

The transition from Diasonics to Toshiba MRI has not been smooth.Maxum felt obliged to provide upgrades and service for the 0.35-teslascanner on its own since the acquisition took place, he said.

WHILE MAXUM IS COMMITTED to keeping a relatively young mobilefleet, the firm expects that most future growth will come in thefixed-site imaging center side of the business.

"We have always seen ourselves gravitating from a primarilymobile to a fixed-site provider," MacKnight said.

Maxum expects to grow its MRI base by about 10 new systems a year.An increasing percentage of those new units will be placed incenters, either acquired or developed, he said.

The firm purchased four existing mobile MRI routes in Indianathis month from American Health Services (see story below). OnePicker and three GE scanners were involved, he said.

Maxum already had a strong mobile presence in Indiana, while AHSwanted to focus exclusively on its fixed-site business in thatarea. The move continues a consolidation trend in the mobile imagingservices field, he said.

Since going public in September (SCAN 10/23/91), Maxum has reduceddebt to the point where it can scout out independent center acquisitionopportunities. The firm bought an independent imaging center lastmonth, following issuance in July of federal safe harbor rulesrestricting referring-physician ownership of medical centers.Maxum now has three centers in operation and two under development(SCAN 1/29/92).

None of the centers relies on referring-physician joint ventures,MacKnight said.

A number of independent imaging centers continue to sit on thesidelines, contemplating restructuring in the light of the safeharbors. Many physicians who have placed their centers on themarket are looking for a high return on their sweat equity, hesaid.

"There are opportunities out there for (center) acquisitionsthat make sense. But, if the price is not reasonable, we willnot acquire it. Our growth is not based on our ability to acquirefacilities," MacKnight said.

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