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CT scan growth rate slows from early 2000s heyday: report

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | June 05, 2012
The growth in CT scan procedure volume has slowed from its early 2000s boom, although most health care providers predict they'll perform more scans this year than last, according to a new market research survey on hospitals and free-standing imaging centers.

Hospital-based providers also say that among their biggest challenges are dealing with an influx of emergency-room patients and working with declining reimbursements. And most buyers say they're looking to purchase a CT scanner with 64 or more slices.

In a report teaser released Tuesday, market research firm IMV said CT scan procedure volume grew an estimated 4 percent from 2010 to 2011, well down from the torrid growth rate it enjoyed at the turn of the millennium. However, estimates show nearly twice as many procedures were performed in 2011 than a decade ago.

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According to IMV, CT volume grew from an estimated 81.9 million procedures in 2010 to 85.3 million in 2011. But in a 2003 census of CT sites, IMV estimated CT volume grew from 39.6 million procedures in 2001 to 45.4 million in 2002, a growth rate of nearly 15 percent. From 2002 to 2003, the procedure volume grew a further 10 percent, according to a 2005 IMV estimate.

Nonetheless, most respondents to the survey, which polled radiology administrators, expected this year to be busier than the one before.

“While CT procedure growth has slowed compared to a decade ago, 58 percent of the surveyed sites indicated that they anticipate their procedures will grow in 2012 compared to 2011, and an additional 34 percent anticipate that their procedures will stay at the same level this year,” Lorna Young, senior director of market research with IMV, said in a statement.

From inpatient to outpatient

Although procedure volumes are still growing, if not as fast as they used to, Medicare and third-party reimbursements are in decline, the report said. Plus, hospital-based radiology departments are struggling to keep up with an increasing number of ER patients. Nearly 80 percent of hospital-based respondents said managing emergency patients was a "major priority," according to the report.

To alleviate pressure from ER patients, and to take advantage of the more "attractive" reimbursement rates for hospitals over independent offices, hospitals are shifting outpatients to imaging centers they own, according to the report.

"We are seeing increased buying activity by hospitals for imaging centers they will own/manage, and faster increases in CT procedure volume in these imaging centers, compared to freestanding imaging centers," Young said.

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