Nuclear medicine bucks imaging sluggishness

September 8, 1993

While MRI procedures are slumping, the number of nuclear medicineprocedures, particularly in cardiac imaging, continues to rise.After plateauing for several years, nuclear medicine studies areincreasing in volume, according to John Vanden Brink,

While MRI procedures are slumping, the number of nuclear medicineprocedures, particularly in cardiac imaging, continues to rise.After plateauing for several years, nuclear medicine studies areincreasing in volume, according to John Vanden Brink, managingpartner of Technology Marketing Group of Des Plaines, IL. He attributesthe growth to new agents on the market.

"New agents have come out in the cardiac area in the pastyear and a half to two years. There has also been a fairly significantincrease over the past year or two in new (nuclear medicine) sitesbeing opened up, although they don't contribute that much to theprocedure volume at the outset. I would say it is primarily becauseof the increase in cardiac applications," he said.

Technology Marketing Group's 1992 research data from its censussurvey cover more than 90% of all diagnostic nuclear imaging facilitiesin the U.S. Results indicate that procedure volume increased nationwidefrom 1991 at a 6% rate for hospitals with over 200 beds and 9%for hospitals with fewer than 200 beds (see graph).

"I see continued growth in cardiac (nuclear imaging) becausemore people are buying equipment for it. It is a focus of nuclearmedicine," Vanden Brink said.

What is different about today's market compared to five toten years ago is that radiopharmaceutical companies are makingvery significant investments in the agents, he said.

Hospitals are projecting a 5% growth in their nuclear medicineequipment budgets for 1993 over 1992, and equivalent growth intheir radiopharmaceutical budgets for the year.

Dual-head and triple-head SPECT systems--with their higherthroughput potential--are the hottest items being purchased innuclear medicine, Vanden Brink said.

"There has been an increase in acquisition of nuclearmedicine equipment over the last three or four years. We had projectedthat based on our previous studies and we had projected the growthof multihead SPECT cameras because of the higher throughput,"he said.

Another issue for purchasers is a perceived advantage in imagequality for multihead SPECT systems over planar units that havebeen converted to SPECT, he said.

Some nuclear medicine agents are also able to reduce proceduretime by allowing for different protocols. This not only increasesrevenue potential but makes better use of trained staff.

"There is a real problem in terms of trained technologistsfor nuclear medicine. One way to get around that is to increasethroughput," he said.

One can justify purchasing higher-end systems when the throughputis high. For nuclear medicine, the average number of proceduresis 1100 per camera per year. That is less than half the performanceof CT and MRI, Vanden Brink said.

"One of the real interesting elements or opportunitieswhen you look at the nuclear medicine area is how to increasethe throughput," Vanden Brink said.

TMG forecasts continued growth in nuclear medicine as new agentsmove through the development pipeline. Increased use of therapyagents will also provide a boost for nuclear medicine throughincreased monitoring.

"Imagine what would happen if someone (developed) a detectorsystem to identify cancer in parts of the body with high specificityand sensitivity. That could change the whole nature of the nuclearmedicine market. There are a lot of well-funded, smart peopleworking on developing these agents. That will have a significantimpact on the future of nuclear medicine in a positive way,"Vanden Brink said.