Costs and Benefits of Different CT System

CT scanners can be of great benefit to most healthcare providers due to their ability to capture high-resolution diagnostic images at a fast rate ( the scanner’s speed makes it a especially beneficial in the ER). However, CT scanners can be very expensive. They are complex machines, after all, which is why you'll want to carefully consider the different costs and benefits of the various types of CT scanners available on the market.

It’s Time To Buy a New CT Scan Machine

There are many different CT scanners to choose from with many different features to consider. The needs of your medical facility will help you know exactly what to look for in a CT scanner. The following are some of the important things to consider:

  • Image quality - The higher quality the images the CT scan captures are, the easier it will be to find and diagnose issues within the patient. This also means that the reverse is true--the lower quality the images are, the more difficult it may be to diagnose certain conditions, and the easier it will be to miss potential problems altogether. There are many factors that determine the image quality of a scanner, including the number of slices, the detector area coverage, the spatial resolution, and more.
  • Patient volume - If you have a high patient volume, opt for a CT scanner with a wider area detector. Detector area coverage varies between scanners, even if they have the same number of slices. By choosing a system with a wider detector area, you'll be able to perform CT scans at a faster rate.
  • Cardiac imaging needs - If you need a CT scanner to perform cardiac scans, a 64 slice system with a wider detector is essential to capture high-quality images while also maintaining an effective workflow.
  • Patient safety - Although you can save money by purchasing older refurbished models, it's worth noting that newer CT scanners are capable of taking high-quality images with smaller doses of mSv. This is made possible through the use of more efficient detectors that capture photons. The use of iterative reconstructive software can also help to lower the dose while also improving image quality.
  • Budget - If your budget was unlimited, you would obviously want to get the highest-end CT scanner available. Unfortunately, unlimited budgets are rarely the case. Beyond the initial cost of the CT scanner, you will also need to allocate a portion of your budget to the CT suite buildout as well as long-term maintenance and repair costs. You may find your choice of CT scanner is driven by budget constraints.

Why Are CT Scanners So Expensive?

The cost of a CT scanner is significant. This is because CT scanners are built using high-tech equipment and software. For example, CT scanners use X-Rays to capture and record images, which means that they need to use X-Ray tubes. Some X-Ray tubes cost upwards of $200,000 or more when the need to be replaced. Additionally, X-Ray tubes typically only last between 3 and 5 years depending on your patient throughput volume, eventually requiring replacement. It's why you need to budget for ongoing costs.

Besides the spike in energy costs that will occur due to the amount of power needed to run a CT scanner, you will also need to pay for basic preventative maintenance, repairs, and replacements throughout its lifespan. On top of the initial cost of the CT scanner and the ongoing expense of maintaining it, you'll also have to pay to have the machine installed. Considering how big a CT scanner is and the specialized room it requires, the cost of installation can be quite expensive.

Slice Count Makes a Difference

A "slice" refers to the individual tomographic (or cross-sectional) image that a CT scanner captures. Each slice is a 2-D image. However, CT scanners are capable of capturing multiple slices per rotation from different viewpoints of the patient. These images are combined to create a 3-D image. CT scanners come in more than 15 different slice configurations, from the basic one-slice CT scanner to the 640-slice CT scanner.

The Higher the Slice, the Higher the Price

The more slices a CT scanner is capable of, the more expensive the machine will be. This is because the images it generates are much more detailed, making it easier to diagnose potentially difficult-to-identify conditions. High slice CT scanners tend to be faster as well. They cost more because they perform more work per rotation.

How Many Slices Do You Really Need?

While, ideally, you would like to invest in a CT scanner with a high slice count, your budget may not allow for that. Fortunately, buying a CT scanner with a low slice count doesn't mean the machine itself is of low quality. In fact, many facilities do not need a high slice CT scanner. A 16-slice CT scanner can still capture high-resolution images.

A higher slice count tends to only be necessary if you have a high number of patients that need to be scanned on a daily basis since time is a factor in such cases. Higher slice count scanners are also beneficial for eliminating artifacts in cardiac imaging--but if you don't see a lot of patients with cardiac issues, you may not be able to justify the higher cost of a high slice CT scanner. Essentially,  the slice count of your CT scanner should depend on what the needs of your facility are.

Standing CT Scanners vs Traditional Lay Down

Standard CT scanners require patients to lay down on their backs. They are then inserted through the bore into the gantry of the machine to be scanned. However, there are also CT scanners that  allow the patient to simply stand or sit while being scanned. These standing CT scanners are less expensive.

Standing CT scanners are not quite as capable as some of the higher slice CT scanners, but they are smaller and use much less radiation. They are also perfect for capturing high-quality images of bone, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons as well as for seeing how foot, ankle, and knee joints respond while bearing weight. This makes standing CT scanners a great option for orthopedic clinics.

Mobile Scanners

Another more affordable alternative to a regular CT scanner is a mobile scanner. Mobile CT scanners are installed in trailers that are parked outside the facility. This means that you don't have to worry about renovating existing space within your facility to accommodate your CT scanner and you won't have to pay for expensive installation costs. You will, however, need to have space available outside.

Mobile CT scanners can be a great alternative if you have multiple facilities in need of a CT scanner since you can share that scanner between facilities if they do not need daily CT scanning capabilities. You can also rent mobile CT scanners instead of purchasing them. This tends to be a lot cheaper over the short-term. However, long-term costs do add up. If you're renting a mobile CT scanner for years on end, it's eventually going to eclipse how much it would have cost to have bought a CT scanner instead.

Refurbished Scanners

If you have a limited budget to work with but need a CT scanner for your facility, one option is to purchase a refurbished CT scanner. The term "refurbished" often has negative connotations; however, don't let that scare you away. It's not quite the same as buying something used.

When a CT scanner is refurbished following ISO 13485 certified quality assurance procedures, it goes through a lengthy process to ensure it is in excellent working condition before it is sold. Every component is inspected, repaired, adjusted, cleaned or replaced. The machine will be carefully cleaned, disinfected, and repainted. The system will then go through a final check in a patient simulated environment to receive a seal of quality.

This refurbishing process means that a refurbished CT scanner will not be more likely to need repairs or replacements than a new CT scanner. Not only will a refurbished system be less expensive, it will come with the same type of warranty. The only real drawback is when it comes to shopping for refurbished CT scanners; you probably won't find any units that are less than a few years old.

How Do You Decide Which Machine is Right For You?

As you can see, there are many things to consider when you purchase a CT scanner, but the two most important things to consider are your budget and your patient needs. Take into account both the initial costs of the CT scanner (including the CT suite buildout) as well as ongoing costs, such as repair and maintenance. Then determine what the needs of your practice are to figure out what type of CT scanner you need and how high of a slice count is required.

Odds are you won't have an unlimited budget, which means you'll need to justify the costs of purchasing a CT scanner. If you have very basic needs and won't be using your CT scanner that often due to a limited patient need, then your facility probably doesn't need a high slice count and could potentially do just fine with a refurbished machine.