The increasing demand for digitisation among hospitals and high price of static modalities are driving demand for mobile medical imaging equipment.
With the increase in procedure volumes and the widening application range, mobile imaging equipment is set to expand from mere diagnosis towards biopsies and surgeries.
"Many small and medium size hospitals that do not have the scale or financial resources to purchase the high-end static diagnostic equipment are turning towards mobile imaging service providers that provide such equipment on hire," explains Research Analyst Srividya Badrinarayanan from Frost & Sullivan.
For areas with a widely disperse population lacking access to medical imaging equipment, these service providers carry the equipment in specially built vehicles, which travel from site to site offering expanded patient care. With replacement times ranging up to one week, mobile imaging equipment also presents an ideal short-term replacement solution for hospitals.
The hospitals call in the services from these providers on a rental basis once or twice a week, or at times, for an extended period of one or two weeks. Most of these service providers are based in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain and have their own trained radiologists and technicians to avoid regulatory issues.
As the mobile imaging market matures and the prices of certain fixed modalities fall, mobile service providers are likely to find it increasingly difficult to maintain their affordability advantage. In fact, mobile computed tomography (CT) scanners are slightly more expensive than their static counterparts and with the advent of digitisation, mobile mammography systems are expected to cost five times that of an analogue system.
"Though mobility is critical, service providers must work towards differentiating their equipment from static modalities," notes Ms Badrinarayanan. "Hospitals prefer equipment that incorporates value-added features and the latest technology for improving the accuracy of their diagnosis and increasing patient throughput."
In addition to the growing popularity of C-arms in minimally invasive surgeries and angiographies, the launch of 3D interoperability features and introduction of a digital flat detector instead of the conventional image intensifier tube are expected to drive the mobile C-arms market.
The increasing demand for mobile medical imaging systems that incorporate high-level ergonomics and ease of use is necessitating mobile equipment that is technically on par with, if not superior to that of static alternatives. However, at the same time, service providers need to strike the right balance between image quality, mobility and price to satisfy a wider range of applications.
For instance, although weight is critical to mobile ultrasound equipment, service providers must reduce the dimensions without compromising on image quality and basic features. This coupled with adequate training to technicians is likely to increase the usage of mobile ultrasound equipment in obstetrics, gynaecology, urology and physiotherapy procedures.
Mobile equipment is also gaining prominence in the field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) where long patient waiting lists are a significant problem. In order to condense the waiting list, the National Health Service in the United Kingdom has awarded a five-year contract to leading mobile service provider Alliance Medical to perform around 635,000 MRI procedures.
Mobile positron emission tomography (PET) scanners are in as much demand as mobile MRI systems. The use of a PET scanner allows accurate detection and staging of cancer. However, smaller healthcare facilities are sceptical about investing huge amounts in installing a specialised and expensive PET scanner and prefer the mobile alternatives.
A major concern in shifting a mobile PET scanner is the fluorine-18 deoxyglucose (FDG) imaging agent, which has a half-life of two hours, thereby restricting long-distance travels. Companies must devise methods to either store or manufacture the FDG imaging agent within the proximity of the examination site.
Overall, the future of mobile medical imaging equipment holds immense opportunities, especially in Eastern Europe where countries are looking for mobile systems as means to support their healthcare system. On their end, service providers need to develop high throughput and scalable technologies to sustain in the market.