Reimbursement cuts force drastic changes at imaging centers

May 10, 2007

Fewer than one quarter of U.S. outpatient imaging centers surveyed by the marketing research firm IMV plan to purchase any type of high-end diagnostic imaging equipment between now and 2008, a draconian measure prompted by the implementation of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA).

Fewer than one quarter of U.S. outpatient imaging centers surveyed by the marketing research firm IMV plan to purchase any type of high-end diagnostic imaging equipment between now and 2008, a draconian measure prompted by the implementation of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA).

Hardest hit have been the biggest ticket items in medical imaging, according to the sample survey of 125 imaging centers. None of the facilities plans to buy a 3T MR system in 2007, according to Mary Patton, IMV director of market research, and fewer than 10% will pick up a 1.5T system. The hesitancy extends to other premium products.

"We saw a lot of 64-slice CTs either postponed indefinitely or canceled," she said. "We also saw this happening, to some extent, with 16-slice CTs."

Declining reimbursements did not dampen interest in the purchase of all equipment, however. The appeal of some actually rose, according to Patton.

"There is a lot of upside for any system that enables diagnostic imaging equipment to be used more effectively," she said.

Prominent among these are RIS/PACS and other IT products, including electronic medical record systems.

Decisions both for and against the purchase of equipment, described in the report entitled 2007 Outlook for U.S. Diagnostic Imaging Centers: Strategies for Competing in the Post-DRA Era, are based on the bleak picture painted by the implementation of this congressional act. Most of the administrators at the imaging centers surveyed by IMV expect lower revenues than 2006 in one or more modalities due to the DRA, which took effect Jan. 1.

Unlike an IMV consensus report that seeks information from 90% or more of facilities in a specific community segment, this sample survey addressed about 4% of the estimated 3000 imaging centers in the U.S.

Early steps to blunt the harshest, most immediate effects of reimbursement cuts on the bottom line of these centers have included adjusting personnel, adding shifts to capture revenue that might otherwise be lost, or cutting staff to contain costs. The path chosen depended on the particular imaging center's circumstances.