Sunday, July 10, 2011

Read This First, Before You Purchase an Ultrasound Machine

at 11:11 AM
It's a little difficult to keep control of your emotions when you are trying to purchase a new ultrasound. Within the past ten years, ultrasound machines have improved tremendously in terms of ultrasound imaging resolution, digital capabilities and user-friendliness. We are now able to clearly visualize small structures that we could not visualize ten years ago. That is primarily because computers and ultrasound machines have followed a similar trend in terms of decreasing in size while increasing in power. That is partly due to the fact that an ultrasound system is a computer. It is a computer in which the only software it can run is its respective ultrasound system software.

Image source: niagarafallsreview.ca
Which brings us to the question, what's important in determining what I need in an ultrasound machine? Should I believe what my ultrasound rep tells me? How can I confirm what my sales rep tells me? What questions do I need to make sure I ask?
What I can tell you is that every ultrasound equipment manufacturer has its pros and cons. Some are better in Renal Imaging while others are better in Thyroid Imaging. Some have better workflow features in Cardiac, while others are better in Vascular, etc... Therefore, in determining what you need in an ultrasound system, I would start by asking the physicians' who teach their respective hands on ultrasound workshops. I would approach and ask them:
• Which ultrasound machine do they use?
• Why did they choose that system?
• Was their decision based on price or performance? (This will tell you if they were just looking for the cheapest in the market or if they were looking for a quality system that can grow with them)
• How long have they had their system?
• Is there anything they wished was improved on their system?
• Which features are important to them?
• Are they happy with their decision?
Pay close attention to their answers because it will give you a strong insight on which ultrasound system is stronger in your specialty. Once you have that information, you will be ready for your on-site ultrasound demonstration with your sales rep.
During your on-site ultrasound demonstration, your sales rep or sonographer will come in and show you the bells and whistles of their system. They will tell you that their system is better than the competition and probably make a compelling argument. But how do you know if they are telling the truth? I would start by testing their knowledge and credibility. With a little pre-emptive research, you can ask a couple questions you already know the answers to. For example, you can ask the following questions:
• In my specialty, is it required for me to be certified to do ultrasounds? If so, what is the certification process?
• What are the CPT Codes for the procedures I will be billing? What does each CPT code mean? What is my medicare re-imbursement for those codes?
• What additional hands-on workshops can he recommend for my specialty? Is he aware of any physicians' that put on one on one ultrasound training at their facility?
This is just a small sample list of questions that will tell you how knowledgeable and credible the rep truly is. If the rep is untruthful in any of his answers, then you probably have good reason not to believe anything that has been said.
Another way to confirm the truth in all his statements is to ask for 3 or 4 referrals. It's important for you to call those referrals and ask them the same questions that you had asked the person who taught the hands on ultrasound workshops.
In conclusion, the most important question that is usually not asked is regarding warranties. It is good to confirm what exactly is covered under the warranty. For example, there are some that don't cover certain transducers, peripherals (such as an ultrasound printer), or accidental damage to the ultrasound equipment. It's always good to confirm what is and what is not covered under the warranty. There are different types of service warranties offered in the marketplace. For example, there are:
• Depot warranties are the ones where you have to ship your equipment off to a service center. Sometimes it includes a loaner that they ship to you while your equipment gets fixed, sometimes they do not. If a loaner is not part of the warranty, then you better be prepared for some headaches.
• Remote or Online warranties are the ones in which they do remote diagnostics on your ultrasound equipment through the internet.
• Onsite warranties are the ones in which a field service engineer comes on-site to fix your equipment. Call me crazy, but if I am going to spend $30,000 on a new ultrasound equipment, I would want someone to come on-site and fix my ultrasound equipment.
I hope I was able to provide some insight on some of the key questions to ask when purchasing an ultrasound equipment. After all, it is a big commitment you will have to be happy with for at least five years. Good Luck!!!
Rudy Garay has been an independent ultrasound consultant for the past 5 years. He currently owns DrSmart.Com, a national distributor of ultrasound machine and ultrasound supplies.
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