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Buying Guide For Ultrasound Machines
There are not many pieces of diagnostic medical imaging equipment as valuable as the multi-functional ultrasound machine. Though popular belief is that this device is used only for tracking fetal progress during pregnancy, the ultrasound is actually a useful tool utilized by physicians and healthcare professionals for diagnosing a wide range of health conditions, such as blood clots, tumors, and blocked arteries. It is even used by some veterinarians to diagnose conditions found in animals!
The ultrasound, also called "sonogram" and "echocardiogram machine", functions by emitting high-frequency waves - not to be confused with radiation - through the patient's body. Though the process might sound scary, it is one of the safest and most affordable imaging options available today. In fact, it is so widely used and appreciated that many people in the healthcare world are considering it one of the power tools of the future. Most likely, it is use will be even more wide spread in the coming years.
These handy machines can be purchased by any physician or healthcare professional that needs a quick and effective method of viewing and diagnosing certain medical conditions in their patients. The prospect of purchasing this machine quickly leads to the question, "where will I buy it and from whom?"
When it comes to delivering to-of-the-line health care, ultrasounds offer one of the fastest and most effective ways of diagnosing certain medical conditions and illnesses early on. They allow physicians to view all body and internal structures of their patients, from both the neurology and podiatry standpoints. These incredibly useful tools are also less expensive and more easily transportable than MRI's or CAT scans.
Basic models of ultrasound machines typically offer two-dimensional black and white images known as sonograms. However, new advances have lead to newer models, which deliver impressive three- and four-dimensional ultrasounds that make diagnosing dramatically easier. 3-D models offer static images and the 4-D models are shown in real time. These advanced 3-D and 4-D types are the norm among obstetrics offices, and are becoming an increasingly popular diagnostic alternative to MRI's and CAT scans for all other specialties. Additionally, color Doppler ultrasounds are utilized in cardiology, vascular surgeries, and other specialties where it is crucial to be able to view the flow of blood through vessels.
How Do They Work?
To correctly use an ultrasound, a professional ultrasonographer uses an instrument called a probe to locate certain internal structures, such as a fetus, blood vessels or organs. Locating of these structures can be accomplished by either pushing the probe against the patient's body or by inserting the probe vaginally or through some other orifice. These probes, also referred to as transducers, are available in many sizes and shapes in order to view differentiating fields of view, sound penetration depths, and image resolutions.
The transducer generates high-frequency sound waves, which are sent via the tissue and vascular areas. These waves are reflected back to the transducer and the machine creates a resulting image based on the speed at which the echoes are returned. Adjustments of various image characteristics, measurements, and a recording of the image are collected by the ultrasonographer and saved for later examination.
As with any large purchase, it is wise to understand the benefits that acquiring one of these ultrasound machines can bring to your practice.
- Accurate Diagnoses - Can be used to accurately identify and pinpoint issues that occur in almost any part of the body.
- Multi-functional - The same device can typically use for viewing fetal progress and also internal organs, muscles, and other soft tissue within the body.
- Inexpensive - This devise is a quite affordable diagnostic tool compared to MRI's and CAT scans.
- Non-invasive - This tool can be used to view and identify internal problems without having to be inserted in the body or puncturing the skin.
- Minimal Risk - Because they do not emit harmful radiation waves, they are generally safe to use on all patients.
- Durability - If properly cared for and maintained, an ultrasound machine can last up to 20 years. An additional benefit to this is that they typically hold their resale value.
- Speedy Recovery Process - Since they provide quick diagnoses, patients can quickly begin their treatment programs as prescribed by their physician.
- Profitable - Though the initial cost might be high, the frequency in which they can be used quickly makes up for and covers the initial purchasing cost.
- Health Insurance Approval - ultrasound procedures are easily approved by medical insurance companies because it prevents them from having to pay for more expensive medical procedures.
Planning and Budgeting
Before purchasing an ultrasound machine, consider how it will be used in your practice.
- Do I need to be able to perform exams deep within the body?
- Will 3D and 4D imaging be beneficial to my patients?
- Is color Doppler needed to evaluate blood flow?
- Is portability important? If so, to what degree?
There are other considerations, but budget is an important one. To determine your budget, first estimate how much the device will be utilized each month. Next, multiply that amount by your expected reimbursement per ultrasound. Next, determine how quickly (in months) you would like to break even on your purchase, and multiply that number by your estimated monthly reimbursement. That is your ideal budget. For offices with a tight budget, also consider leasing or buying refurbished products.
Before your purchase, also consider the machine and software's compatibility with your office PC and software, specifically your EMR's (electronic medical records).
Choosing a Seller
There are many avenues to explore when searching for a reputable seller. Large hospitals and healthcare practices typically purchase their ultrasound machines from an equipment manufacturer, while certified distributors, brand-exclusive sellers, and brokers typically can adhere to requests from any size office.
Regardless of who you buy your machine from, the most important thing is to find a knowledgeable seller who stands behind his products, including offering top-notch customer service when help is needed, a manufacturer's warranty of a minimal 1 year period, and a contractual agreement that calls for timely responses, onsite repairs and all parts and labor. Finding a company with a solid reputation and several years of experience is also a good idea, since these indicate an overall satisfied customer base.
Used ultrasound machines can be purchased from medical supply stores, hospitals and medical centers that are ready to upgrade their equipment. This can be a good alternative to buying new, though used equipment pieces will generally not offer a long-covering warranty or customer support in the event of any problems that may arise.
Pricing and Buying Tips
In addition to the money you should expect to spend on delivery and maintenance costs, software, extra transducer probes, installation and training, peripherals, and consumable products like gels and printer paper, you should expect to pay between $10,000 and $200,000 for your ultrasound machine, depending on the size, quality, and degree of technology involved. While these prices look a bit overwhelming, remember that few other tools can bring your practice such quick and effective results as the sonograph. Despite the initial purchase, steady use of the machine should pay back what you spend on the investment. Since these machines hold up well over time, you should more than adequately earn back what you spent, plus a lot more.
Basic ultrasounds, which emit a black and white 2-dimensional image typically cost between $20,000 and $60,000. Machines with improved technology such as the ones used in OB/GYN clinics cost more, starting around $35,000 to $45,000 for the most basic models of 3-D equipment. Large practices may choose to purchase the more expensive 4-D models, which include features like large touch-screen display and an assortment of transducers to choose from, varying in size and frequency.
When searching for equipment, beware of online ads for equipment at rates near $100-$200. The equipment being offered is not a diagnostic ultrasound machine, but rather a therapeutic device used by chiropractors and physical therapists. These low-end therapeutic devices are not useful in medical imaging and should not be used to take the place of an ultrasound machine.