Zoom. . . zoom. . . zoom

June 12, 2002

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comI'm a sap for catchy phrases. Once I latch onto one, I can't get rid of it. I'll never forget that plop plop fizz fizz brings relief

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

I'm a sap for catchy phrases. Once I latch onto one, I can't get rid of it. I'll never forget that plop plop fizz fizz brings relief or that a Timex watch takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

I figure I must have a neural bundle set aside for these things. Maybe other people do, too. Whether we act on these repetitive bits of data, however, is another question. I can count the times I've had Alka Seltzer (the bubbles are really annoying). And I've never owned a Timex.

Regardless of whether I'm an anomaly or not, the point is that consumer-based advertising has its limitations. And it's not a bad idea to keep that in mind when forming expectations based on consumer-oriented screening efforts.

It's no great revelation that procedure growth drives the sale of imaging equipment. Reimbursement in the U.S. has always been the cornerstone of this growth.

Lately we've heard that screening could change all that. You know, enlightened consumers reaching into their pockets to pay for important services not reimbursed by insurance carriers or covered by HMOs. That might be true under some circumstances, but certainly not under all--a fact underscored by the recent failure to build demand for CT whole-body screening (SCAN 6/12/02).

A recessionary economy may be one reason. But while that may give solace to those who hope screening programs will one day contribute a serious chunk of revenue to practitioners and to the sale of imaging equipment (after all, how long can the recession last!), it is also an ominous sign. To date, medical practice and, to a large extent, the sale of imaging equipment have been immune to generalized economic pressures. The reason? Healthcare is a necessity whose demand grows as the population ages. Screening programs, however, do not fall into this category of demand. If not reimbursed by a third party, they will likely be viewed as luxury items. Consequently, demand for them will ebb and flow with the economy, making the practitioner and equipment vendor more susceptible to financial difficulties.

Screening programs can and should be used to buoy demand. But we need to recognize that this demand won't hold up as well as the traditional steady stream of patients entering imaging departments. This could put us in the same boat as other industries. So get ready. It may be only a matter of time until we see a cute kid in a multislice CT control room, first looking at the gantry, then peering up into the camera, whispering, "Zoom . . . zoom."