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Medical Imaging in 2021: 7 Industry Trends and Predictions

Nov 30, 2020 | Articles, Siemens

The fog of uncertainty created in 2020 is slowly starting to lift. While there are still many questions and challenges for those of us who work in medical imaging, we’re all moving forward into the New Year with optimism and determination.

Whether you’re in healthcare technology management (HTM) or a field service engineer (FSE), the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will continue to loom large. The big difference in 2021 will be that we’re all more prepared to adapt to a world that changes quickly.

To help you get ready for the coming months, we’ve gathered seven trends and expectations for medical imaging in 2021.

1. Expect Elective Outpatient Scans to Rebound

During the first half of 2020, many patients and clinics canceled or postponed non-emergency, non-essential scans. People wanted to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus, and hospitals wanted to prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients.

According to Radiology Business, inpatient and ER scanning dropped by 40% during the spring while outpatient imaging fell 70%. This caused a backlog of demand for scans. It’s likely that, as people become more accustomed to the risks of COVID-19, they’ll be comfortable going back to clinics for elective scans.

A September 2020 study from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) predicts demand will return. However, people who lose employer-provided health insurance due to unemployment may offset some of those gains:

As the economy struggles to return to normal, the demand for most imaging services should rebound above historical baseline levels as deferred, but necessary, imaging gets scheduled.”

There have already been significant rebounds in many areas. For example, one recent study found that, while mammograms nearly came to a complete halt in March and April of 2020, they started rebounding over the summer. According to the study’s authors:

“Our data also show that mammography volumes in our sample began to rebound starting in May. By the end of July, the volume of diagnostic mammograms reached levels similar to those observed in previous years, while the volume of screening mammograms remained somewhat below expected levels.”

Diagnostic Imaging reported that global CT scan volume also began rebounding in July. Although, more recent data from the American College of Radiology (ACR) indicate CT volume has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels in the U.S. The ACR analysis found there were 3.7 million fewer CT scans than normal between January and September of 2020.

While no one is ruling out the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 causing more cancellations and postponements, all signs point to a surge in demand for medical imaging in 2021. That increase in volume means it will be increasingly important to avoid system downtime so patients can continue to be scanned.

2. HTMs Seek Out Cost-Saving Strategies

Health systems and hospitals across the U.S. lost money throughout 2020. The American Hospital Association (AHA) estimates financial losses of $323.1 billion through the end of the year. While there has been some help from the federal government in the form of the CARES Act and Provider Relief Fund, it’s not nearly enough to balance the total losses.

Hospital losses compared to CARES Act and PPP Provider Relief Fund

An article from RevCycle Intelligence suggests these losses are having the biggest effect on smaller, private radiology practices:

The severe economic impact of COVID-19 has forced many practice leaders to take drastic cost-cutting measures to stay open, including decreasing salaries, paid time off, benefits, and hours of work despite increasing work responsibilities …

Beyond salaries and benefits, financial losses also mean postponing investments in healthcare technology. According to a recent survey from Cowen, COVID-19 has negatively impacted 4 out of 5 hospital budgets. The research also found hospital administrators don’t expect to resume capital spending on medical technology until well into 2021.

Separately, analysts from Omdia point to year-over-year declines in medical imaging equipment purchases for many modalities. They say hospitals are diverting budgets away from non-essential equipment and extending the life of older systems.

Insights on the global medical imaging market from Transparency Market Research suggest providers find ways to keep the ongoing costs of owning imaging systems under control:

In [the] case of a hospital or diagnostic center which is about to start offering or expanding imaging modality services, in order to ensure the financial security for the entire lifetime of equipment, costs of services need to be affordable as well as predictable. This includes costs of system upgrades, maintenance, application support, and staff training.”

That’s where partners who can deliver replacement medical imaging parts and offer training bring unique value. Organizations like DirectMed Imaging help providers keep imaging systems in operation by providing engineers with affordable parts they need for repairs and preventive maintenance.

3. The Growth of Mobile Imaging Continues

One area of medical imaging that is seeing significant growth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is mobile radiology. That’s because mobile CT and X-ray are playing a key role in diagnosing and monitoring COVID-19 patients.

The portability of these systems allows them to move around a facility to scan individual patients rather than using a dedicated room. Providers can also use mobile imaging in a patient’s place of residence, allowing the individual to self-isolate at home when necessary. This avoids a trip to the hospital and reduces the spread of the virus.

In an article for HealthCare Business News, Matthew Hoover, senior manager of market development for mobile at DMS Health Technologies (Digirad), said the trend of mobile imaging could expand in the near future:

While the focus has historically been on portable X-ray and ultrasound, we need to make sure that we are leveraging all portable modalities for COVID-10 patients. The more we can do to take the radiology department to the patient from an infection control standpoint, the better off we will be.”

It certainly appears that managing the spread of the coronavirus will be an ongoing issue in 2021. So, you can expect the use of and demand for mobile medical imaging parts and equipment to rise.

4. Right to Repair Legislation Moves Forward

Yet another COVID-related issue that will impact the medical imaging community in the coming months is unfolding in Washington, D.C. That’s where legislation aiming to give owners of imaging systems the right to access tools and information required to fix and maintain equipment is being pushed forward in Congress.

The Critical Medical Infrastructure Right to Repair Act would give trained staff the freedom to fix medical equipment during a crisis rather than being forced to rely on the manufacturer and without worrying about copyright infringement or restrictive OEM contracts.

The bill is still in the first stages of the legislative process, and there is plenty of debate around the topic. But the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right to Repair Act could become part of a larger COVID-19 federal relief package, and a resurgence of the virus in 2021 could prompt lawmakers to take action.

5. Siemens Likely to See Revenue Growth in 2021

At DirectMed Imaging, we focus on Siemens medical imaging systems in order to provide customers with dedicated expertise and the highest-quality parts, training, support, and service. So, we are glad to see that Siemens is expecting its healthcare division to bounce back in 2021.

Siemens Healthineers reported a 2% revenue decline in the fourth quarter. However, it is predicting revenue to increase by 8% over the course of the fiscal year ending in September of 2021. Part of that growth is represented by sales of its rapid COVID-19 tests. Siemens Healthineers also expects its imaging unit to return to a growth of at least 5% in 2021.

DirectMed Imaging believes Siemens manufactures some of the best medical imaging technology on the market. We are proud to help our customers get the most out of these systems by keeping them running with Siemens replacement parts and through imaging engineer training.

6. The Demand for Expert Medical Imaging Training Rises

Doing more with less will likely be a theme for medical imaging departments that find their budgets slashed in 2021. If hospitals and imaging clinics keep older systems running longer, they’ll need experienced engineers or trained biomedical technicians (BMETs) who understand how to service and repair those machines. That’s especially true if it’s equipment that has reached end-of-life (EOL) and is no longer covered under an OEM service contract.

We’ve written frequently about the talent gap in medical imaging and how BMETs can be trained to complete certain tasks such as preventive maintenance and basic repairs. An article from ICE Magazine echoes this idea while pointing out the challenge of finding adequate training:

But when institutions invest in their employees’ professional development, there are savings to be had on a much larger level, to say nothing of improvements in departmental cohesion, the advancement of individual careers, and the overall quality of the patient experience.”

DirectMed Imaging provides online and in-person training on Siemens imaging systems because we know that ongoing education for engineers and BMETs is the most effective solution to the problem. Expert training benefits healthcare organizations, the trainees, and ultimately the patients. That’s why we’ve continued offering training with COVID-19 safety measures in place.

As people become more comfortable with travel and in-person learning, we are expecting an increase in demand for the type of hands-on training we provide in our state-of-the-art facility.

7. Medical Imaging Aims for Sustainability

A new White House administration in 2021 means renewed attention on increasing sustainable practices in many industries, including healthcare. In medical imaging, the use of helium is an issue of particular concern due to a critical shortage of the non-renewable gas, which is used to cool MRI magnets.

Philips introduced the first helium-free MRI in 2018. Other OEMs offer zero-boil off magnets that reduce the need for helium refills. That includes the Siemens Magnetom Avanto.

Medical technology waste is another area where improvements could be made. According to the Healthcare Environmental Resource Center, technological advancement in electronic equipment shortens its usefulness and “poses a significant threat to public health and the environment.”

The constant pursuit of the latest and greatest medical imaging technology can lead to unnecessary waste, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Refurbished replacement parts and components harvested from imaging systems that are no longer in use provide an eco-friendly solution that supports a circular economy. Rather than simply disposing of a medical imaging system, parts and components can be reused. This prolongs the life of operational equipment and ultimately reduces waste. As a Frost & Sullivan analyst explained in Radiology Today:

Environmental advantages include fewer landfills, reuse of parts, extended life of the equipment, and a smaller carbon footprint, harnessing the potential of the circular economy.”

As policies in Washington support green initiatives and the public at large demands a focus on sustainability, you can expect the healthcare industry to prioritize its environmental impact. The good news is, that focus also equates to cost savings for HTMs who choose to extend the life of medical imaging systems.

Making that choice is easy when you have a partner like DirectMed Imaging. Our replacement parts have an extremely low DOA rate thanks to our stringent quality assurance practices. Plus, our expert technical support is available 24/7. From parts and service to training and support, we are prepared to be a reliable medical imaging resource.

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