Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the fastest growing and most versatile of all the imaging modalities. However, reducing healthcare budgets is a continuing trend, and this can sometimes deter investment towards the installation of additional MRI imaging facilities at clinical settings. Radiologists are under increased pressure to provide high-quality levels of service to patients, despite the increase in patient throughput, and the reduction of investment in healthcare provisions.
Advances in technology, but not in expenditure
The most recent edition of IHS Markit’s MRI Equipment Report - 2018 discusses that technological advancements of MRI have developed rapidly over the past two decades; however, the systems remain an expensive imaging option. As healthcare providers become increasingly more conscientious of their budgets, more cost-effective solutions are in demand. IHS Markit projects the 1.5T product segment to be the fastest growing, with a unit compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1%. The 1.5T segment is the most popular and practical option to install within a mobile MRI trailer.
The emergence of mobile MRI technology is largely driven by social, economic and technological factors. The units consist of the trailer which contains the MRI system, along with all technology necessary to perform the procedures, such as: - workstations, monitors, magnetic shielding, and climate controls (air-conditioning, heating and humidification manipulation).
Reducing waiting times and increasing quality of care
Mobile MRI units are easily transported and shared between healthcare provisions, and can decrease and distribute the cost of ownership. Mobile MRI systems can also be rented enabling clinical settings to clear backlogs and reduce waiting lists, without purchasing a fixed system for their site. However, renting a mobile MRI system is often seen as a temporary measure. With the trend increase in the diagnosis of non-communicable diseases as stated by IHS Markit in the MRI Equipment Report 2018, mobile MRI can be a necessary supplement, to ensure patients are scanned and diagnosed with sufficient time to be treated competently.
Mobile MRI also has the benefit of reducing costs to the patient. Investigations and research by the Canadian Coordinating Office for Health Technology Assessment (CCOHTA) has found that using mobile MRI systems can reduce the costs to the customer by more than 50%. Calculated and estimated costs include average travelling expenses, and the patient’s and staff time spent per scan.
The flexibility and transportable nature of a mobile MRI unit, enables access to patients who might not normally be able to receive an MRI scan. Such as those of rural locality, and those patients who are less mobile. In China, IHS Markit projected the 1.5T segment to be the fastest growing with a revenue CAGR of 7.0% from 2017 to 2022. A large proportion of 1.5T systems can be used in mobile MRI trailers, as focus in China is shifted towards Tier 2 and Tier 3 healthcare provisions, which support the less urbanised regions of the country.
Problems associated with mobile MRI units
Mobile imaging solutions offer flexibility, (location) and risk mitigation, (no installation outlay) to organizations looking to improve their care delivery and to support expansion facilities. However, mobile MRI may not be the correct option for all organizations.
There have been several modifications made to MRI that has made it more conducive to mobile technology. Over the past several years, the units have become lighter, smaller, self-shielding, and it is now possible to mobilize superconductive 0.5T or 1.0T MRI units. Originally, the preparation time necessary to set up mobile MRI units was lengthy, which impacted scheduling. Newer MRI units require minimal set-up and the magnet which often needed to be ramped after each move, is now ramped during the initial calibration and remains ramped throughout each move.
Increasing aging populations need accessible imaging
Purchasing decisions of mobile technology should not only be based on costs, but the opportunity to provide MRI services to clinical settings in close proximity, that alone could not fully utilize the technology. Future population and health trends also need to be factored into the decision. The aging population of the world is increasing with life expectancy to be around 69 years in 2016 (World Health Organization, 2015), a two-year increase from the 2010 estimate of 67 years.
The total cost of a mobile MRI is in some cases still lower than that of a fixed site. IHS Markit projects the average selling price of the total MRI equipment market will decline by a CAGR of -2.7%, from 2017 to 2022. This decrease will be reflected in the total cost of a mobile MRI system, which can already be a more cost-effective solution than a fixed MRI system. Although there are increased operating costs with mobile MRI technology, these costs can be offset by increased throughput and flexibility.
IHS Markit believes mobile MRI is increasingly becoming a viable option for clinical settings in rural locations, with shared ownership of the machines between various organizations. However, due to the costs of the maintenance and upkeep of the mobile units, in addition to the expenses associated with the transportation of the trailers, the uptake of the machines in emerging and less economically stable markets, financially, may not yet be an option.
A full assessment of the global market for MRI equipment is available from IHS Markit in the MRI Equipment Report – 2018.
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