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Ultrasound system prices up 20%, driven by new system rollout

The average price of ultrasound systems rose 20% over the past year, in part because of the launch of a pricey new system and the uptick in the average price of premium systems, according to the Modern Healthcare/ECRI Institute Technology Price Index.

The index analyzes monthly and annual price data for about 30 supply and capital items purchased by hospitals and other healthcare providers, based on three-month rolling averages.

The arrival of Philips Healthcare’s EPIQ ultrasound system in 2013 is a major driver of the average price increase, analysts at the ECRI Institute say. The system, launched in the U.S. market in the fall, is expected to provide better image quality, quicker turnaround times, and more consistent images. The company also says it requires less training for technicians.

“The major players in ultrasound are striving to reduce the variability in ultrasound,” said Daniel Merton, ECRI’s senior project officer for health devices.

Other top sellers of ultrasound equipment in the U.S. include GE Healthcare, Toshiba and Samsung.

The average price of ultrasound systems is about $115,000, with low-end systems costing $25,000 and high-end systems hitting upward of $250,000. The average price of cardiac ultrasound systems also has jumped over the past year, up nearly 12% to $162,115.

Many healthcare providers may have delayed ultrasound purchases while waiting for the Philips technology to become available. At the same time, hospitals and physicians are using ultrasound systems more often and in different clinical categories than traditional utilization in obstetrics, gynecology and vascular imaging.

“We’re seeing ultrasound getting into new places and more niche applications,” said Nadim Daher, a medical technology analyst for Frost & Sullivan.

Ultrasound is cheaper than CT or MRI and doesn’t use ionizing radiation. It’s also being used in new practice areas, such as by anesthesiologists in the intensive-care unit and with obese patients. The growing number of state breast density laws, which require providers to notify patients about whether they have breast dense tissue, is another factor that may be driving utilization trends because those patients often undergo ultrasound as an alternative form of mammography screening.

About 1,800 EPIQ systems have been installed worldwide, said Sean Gallimore, vice president of marketing for ultrasound at Philips Healthcare. In the U.S., healthcare facilities with high volume and tougher clinical cases are more likely to purchase the EPIQ system.