Cost and Benefits of Various CT Scanner Slice Options

CT scanners are a huge advantage to any medical facility due to their ability to capture diagnostic images of organs and other internal systems through the use of X-rays. Their speed also makes them particularly useful in emergency rooms, where they can be used to make more accurate diagnoses within minutes. This is vital for patients who are in severe condition and need surgery as soon as possible. However, when buying a new CT scanner, there is a lot to consider. CT scanners are quite expensive, and you'll want to make sure to get exactly what you need for your facility.

What Affects The Cost of a CT Scanner?

CT scanners use complex components and software in order to take X-ray images. It's why they tend to be so expensive. Speed, image quality, and safety are all important factors that must be addressed (especially when considering the use of X-ray technology, which exposes patients to small doses of radiation) and which therefore contribute to the overall cost. But it's not just the initial price of a CT system that makes it expensive--the cost of installing the system, continued costs of maintenance, and potential repairs must all be factored in.

Once you begin researching CT scanners, you'll find that the cost of CT scan machines can vary greatly.  Expect to pay $100,000 at the very minimum for a lower-end, refurbished model. For a newer, higher-end model, CT scanners can go for as much as $2.5 million. One of the main factors contributing to the cost of the CT scanner is the number of slices the system can make per rotation. CT scanners come in many different slice configurations--the higher the slices, the more expensive the system typically is.

What Are CT “Slices”?

Slices are cross-sectional pictures of different angles of the body that are captured by the CT system. These pictures are combined to form a 3D image of the area that was scanned, making it easier to spot and diagnose certain conditions. CT scanners are differentiated by the number of slices they have--the slice numbers referring to the space between the slices. The more slices a system has, the more pictures will be produced during a single scan, allowing for the creation of a more detailed 3D image.

The Differences Between The Machines

Although there are many different slice configurations available, the following is a sampling of some of the more common CT scanner slice configuration options and what to expect  regarding their performance and price.

16 Slice CT Scanner

A new 16 slice CT scanner generally costs around $300,000 depending on the manufacturer. Although on the lower end of the slice count, they are still upwards of four times as fast as conventional CT scanners and provide much greater detail than regular X-rays. They can be used to diagnose cancer, heart disease, emphysema, bone fractures, joint problems, internal injuries, and more, and are used to help with radiation treatment planning.

64 Slice CT Scanner

A new  64 slice CT scanner will cost around $1 million. They tend to be slightly more accurate than 16 slice CT scanners due to its better image quality. It's also faster and better suited for cardiac imaging.

128 Slice CT Scanner

128 Slice CT scanners cost between $1 and $2 million. They are quicker and more detailed than 64 slice CT scanners. They also eliminate some of the artifacts that commonly occur in images captured by 64 slice CT scanners (which occur as a result of multiple image stitching where parts of the heart or vessels are misaligned as a result of cardiac movement).

256 Slice CT Scanner

The 256 slice CT scanner, one of the highest slice CT scanners available on the market (surpassed only by the 320 slice and 640 slice CT scanners available), will run almost twice as much as a 64 slice CT scanner. Expect to pay upwards of $2 million. 256 slice CT scanners are much faster and offer larger imaging areas than the previously mentioned options. They are particularly useful for imaging patients with fast heart rates, arrhythmia, or who are obese.

Number of Slices Really Becomes a Question of How Much Detail is Actually Needed

Bottom line: the more slices a CT scanner has, the higher quality the images will be (offering more detail at a higher resolution) and the faster they can be captured. While this might make it seem that the CT scanner with the highest number of slices must be the best option, this isn't necessarily the case. Even a 16-slice CT scanner is capable of taking high-quality diagnostic images. It just depends on what the diagnostic needs are.

For cardiac imaging, higher slice machines help eliminate some of the artifacts that can show up as a result of movement. But if you don't see a lot of patients with cardiac issues, a 16 or 64 slice CT scanner may be perfectly suitable for your needs. Having more detail in your images can help to make it easier to diagnose certain conditions, but that doesn't mean these conditions will be difficult to spot in lower slice scanners.

So Which CT Scanner is Right For Your Medical Center?

In a perfect world, you would jump at the highest slice CT scanner available. But such scanners are incredibly expensive and may end up being an unnecessary luxury. Whether or not you need a high slice count depends on the needs of your medical facility. For example, if you see a lot of cardiac patients, a higher slice count can certainly help to prevent artifacts and make your imaging more accurate.

However, it's also important to take into account how many patients you see. Smaller clinics will likely not need 256 slice CT scanners even if they see many cardiac patients. This is because they can take their time with their imaging process and retake any scans if the original images are flawed.

On the other hand, larger hospitals may need to invest in 256 slice CT scanners simply because of the number of patients they see. The higher the slice count, the faster the scans will be, which means that they will be able to see more patients per day than if they had a lower slice count machine. If you have such a high patient load, then you won't be able to afford to retake scans due to flaws in the original image capture because it could cause delays for the other patients you have scheduled.

Larger hospitals require CT scanners in their ER departments as well. If you're seeing patients in emergency situations, make sure that your CT scanner captures images as quickly and as accurately as possible. You won't want to have any questions about a possible diagnosis due to clarity or artifacts in an emergency situation.

Lastly, take into account your budget. You may not have the money to invest in a 256 slice scanner, and the 128 slice option may suffice. For smaller clinics, you may want to stick with a 16 or 64 slice CT scanner even if you have the budget for a higher count slice scanner, especially if there isn't a pressing need for a more advanced CT machine. Maintaining margin in your budget is important as well, since unexpected needs may arise later on in the year.