The Main Benefits and Drawbacks to Purchasing New or Refurbished MRI Systems

The importance of being able to diagnose conditions at their early stages and to track treatment for certain conditions accurately can't be overstated. It's why so many hospitals invest in MRI systems, which allow for the capture of high-resolution diagnostic images. However, because MRI systems use such powerful magnets and are extremely complex in terms of how they are built, operated, and installed, they tend to be very expensive. If you're purchasing an MRI, consider all of your options, including new MRIs or refurbished MRIs.

It’s Time To Purchase an MRI

Begin by determining exactly what your hospital needs before you make your purchase. An MRI is a big investment, even if you go with a refurbished model. Here are some of the important considerations to make before shopping for a new MRI so you know exactly what to look for:

  • Patient needs - There are a variety of different MRI systems available depending on what your needs are. If you treat patients with neurological or musculoskeletal conditions, then a high field MRI is a much better option than a low field MRI. However, if your hospital doesn't specialize in these areas, you may not need as strong a magnetic field. The difference in cost between a 3T MRI (recommended for neurological and musculoskeletal scans) and a 1T MRI can be significant.
  • Space - MRI systems take up a substantial amount of space. Not only are the systems themselves quite large, but they require their own specially designed rooms to help protect your surroundings (as well as the people outside of the room) from the strength of the magnetic field produced.
  • Staff training - Your MRI technicians will need to be trained to use the MRI system you invest in. If you're buying a state-of-the-art MRI, your staff may require training to become familiar with the new technology. Find out if the supplier or manufacturer provides training and how much that will cost.
  • Service contract - The terms and conditions of a service contract will differ from one manufacturer to another. Compare the duration of the warranties offered and find out what service contract terms and conditions are available to you and how much they will cost once your warranty expires. Find out if preventative maintenance, repairs, and part replacement are covered or partially covered. Some contracts also include free or discounted upgrades as well as 24-hour technical support.
  • Budget - When comparing the costs of new and refurbished MRI systems, consider all of the costs involved, not just the initial investment. Besides the cost of the system itself, you'll also have to pay for the installation of the MRI, which can be quite complicated considering the fact that it requires its own specialized room. Also take into account the costs of maintenance and repairs once your service contract expires, the cost of refilling helium whenever needed, and the cost of operating the MRI (such as staff and energy costs).

New MRI Systems

Many hospitals will invest in a new MRI system rather than a refurbished model. However, because they are more expensive to purchase and maintain than refurbished models, verify that what you are buying is of high quality and that it will meet all of your diagnostic imaging needs. Some of the pros and cons of investing in a new MRI system are:

Pros of New MRI Systems

The benefits of going with a new MRI system include:

  • It will likely last longer - A refurbished MRI is one that has been used before (although it will have been serviced to ensure it functions properly). When you buy a new MRI system, you can be assured that it hasn't experienced any wear and tear from previous use, and is much more likely to last a lot longer.
  • It may have newer features you need - If there are specific features you are looking for, a new MRI is more likely to have them. Most refurbished models on the market are at least a few years old, which means they may not have some of the features implemented into newer models.
  • It will be more capable of meeting future needs - Factor your hospital's current needs into your purchasing decision as well as your potential future needs. A new MRI is more likely to meet future needs simply because newer tech was used to manufacture it and more advanced features were most likely implemented.

Cons of Used MRI Systems

Buying a new MRI might seem like the way to go when it comes to a piece of technology that your hospital will depend on heavily to make proper diagnoses and to track different types of treatments, but new MRIs are not without their difficulties. Here are just a couple of drawbacks to keep in mind:

  • It will be more expensive - The cost difference between a new MRI and a refurbished one can be significant. It's not uncommon for new models to cost upwards of twice as much.
  • More training may be needed - Brand new MRI systems may use newer software and hardware requiring your technicians to get additional training .
  • Even new MRIs can become outdated quickly - MRI tech has advanced at a very rapid pace over the past three decades. There's a risk that the brand new MRI will be outdated within a few years if more significant advancements are made. For example, it wasn't long ago that MRIs needed to be refilled every couple of months. Then the zero helium boil-off feature was introduced, helping save hospitals thousands of dollars on liquid helium refills. There's always the potential that similar advancements could be made that would outdate your new MRI after only a few years.

Refurbished MRI Systems

Some hospitals may look down on the idea of buying a refurbished MRI system. However, there's no reason why a refurbished system can't meet the diagnostic imaging needs of your hospital just as well as a brand new model. The following are the pros and cons to consider if you're weighing the idea of going with a refurbished system:

Pros of Refurbished Systems

The benefits of buying a refurbished MRI include:

  • It's cheaper - Refurbished MRI systems can be as much as 50 percent cheaper than brand new models.
  • It's not low-quality - One of the misconceptions that some hospitals may have is that "refurbished" is the same as "used." Although refurbished MRIs were previously used, they go through extensive testing and servicing to ensure that they function properly. This includes replacing worn parts at the factory with new parts.
  • Less training may be needed - Your technicians may be more familiar with the software of a refurbished model, especially if you are replacing an older MRI at your facility.
  • They're time-tested - All the kinks of an older MRI system will have been worked out by this time, so you don't have to worry about any unexpected software or hardware issues popping up.

Cons of Refurbished Systems

Although refurbished MRIs certainly have their share of benefits, they do have a few drawbacks as well, including the following:

  • They can be comparatively outdated - Most refurbished MRI systems are more than a few years old. Remember, most refurbished MRI systems come from other hospitals who are selling their current system because they are upgrading. This means that your refurbished MRI may not have the same features or tech as a newer MRI.
  • They may not last as long - Although worn out parts are replaced as part of the refurbishing process, the system is still used, meaning it is likely to have a shorter lifespan than a new MRI.
  • Parts may become more difficult to come across - The older the refurbished MRI is, the more of a chance there is that some of its parts may no longer be used in newer systems. Replacement parts may become difficult to find in the near future.
  • You won't have as many options - Trying to find a specific MRI built by a specific manufacturer and with specific features can be very difficult. If you find exactly what you're looking for, you might have to act quickly. If someone else buys it, it becomes even less likely you’ll find a refurbished MRI to your exact specifications again.

Important Considerations to Take When Purchasing a Refurbished MRI

If you do decide to purchase a refurbished MRI, be very careful about the specific MRI you buy and who you buy it from. Make sure that when the system was refurbished it was done so to meet OEM (original equipment manufacturer) specifications.

Verify that the vendor you're purchasing the MRI from is a reputable one. Ask for referrals from previous customers and do some basic research by looking up reviews online or at their standing with the Better Business Bureau.  Ask if they will guarantee that the MRI will meet ACR (American College of Radiology) requirements. Finally, ask whether a helium fill will be included with the purchase of your MRI. Many vendors offer a one-time fill. 

Service Contracts and Warranties

New MRI systems come with warranties from the manufacturer. If you're purchasing a refurbished MRI, be sure the vendor provides a warranty as well. Ask about the duration of the warranty and what it covers. Specifically, ask if the warranty includes the MRI's coils, compressor, chiller, and coldhead. You should also ask if there are short-term and extended warranties available.

Manufacturers will typically include service contracts with their MRI systems as well. A service contract will provide full or partial coverage for preventative maintenance, repairs, part replacement, and sometimes upgrades. Be sure to get a service contract, whether your vendor offers them or not, through another third party if necessary.

Which is Right For Your Hospital?

When comparing new MRIs to refurbished MRIs, there's no right answer as to which is the better investment. Whether your hospital should buy a new or refurbished MRI system depends mostly on what your specific needs and budgetary constraints are. Before you make your decision, take into consideration both the current and future needs of your hospital.