What’s driving outpatient imaging growth in your market? The answer may surprise you.

With so much volatility in the outpatient imaging market—evidenced by the economic downturn, continued entrenchment of private payer preauthorization programs, volume redirection and the uncertainty of reform—now is an opportune time to pause and take stock of outpatient growth prospects for the near future.

Outpatient volume forecasts for 2011-2016
Factoring in outpatient and emergency volume , the Advisory Board forecasts healthy outpatient growth for several modalities between 2011 and 2016. For example, we project a total growth rate of 8% and 11% for CT and MRI, respectively, across the next five years. This translates into a five-year incremental volume of 4.3 million CT and 3 million MR procedures.

Growth slows, but doesn’t stop

Nevertheless, current growth rates are projected to be weaker than in years past. In 2000-2004, outpatient MRI and CT grew as much as 10% annually, but since then, volume growth rates have been declining. Our most recent forecasts, tempered by the recent pressures as evidenced in the findings in our latest volumes benchmarking, found flattening of volumes in many modalities including CT and MRI. In addition, widespread penetration of utilization management—including radiology benefit manager steerage—has further chipped away at hospital outpatient volumes specifically.

Imaging volume drivers

However, the outlook is not all negative, as advanced imaging procedures are still buoyed by a variety of volume drivers.

An aging population
Given that adults over 65 are the prime users of imaging exams, we can expect an increase in utilization as the population ages. We estimate that Americans over age 65 will be responsible for 30 million CTs and 10.1 million MRIs in 2016, a full 52% and 34% of the total for each modality, respectively.

Downstream cost reduction
Advanced procedure volumes within both CT and MR can lead to further volume boosts. During our ongoing research for our 2012 national meeting series, we are examining specific scan types where boosting volumes may result in lower downstream care costs.

Case in point, one institution implemented robust coronary CT angiography (CCTA) protocols for patients presenting to the ED with chest pain and low heart failure risk. In many cases, CCTA exams can rule out surgery, reducing length of stay and overall costs. After implementing new protocols in the ED, CCTA volumes rose three-fold and length stay decreased by about 58%. In our estimator, we project as much as 10-11% growth each year, totally about 50% over five years and far exceeding projected growth rates for any other type of CT.

Expanding advanced procedure terrain
MRI volumes, on the other hand, will continue to be driven by growth in brain, musculoskeletal, and spine applications, in addition to newer procedures like breast and cardiac MRI. In fact, we project 15% growth in breast and 24% growth in cardiac MRs over the next five years.

Generate customized volume forecasts for your markets

Imaging Performance Partnership members may access the Outpatient Imaging Market Estimator to evaluate opportunities and barriers in localized markets. Updated to incorporate our latest estimates and forecasts, the tool allows you to access volume estimates and forecasts for any geography within the United States at either the county or zip code level and view market size estimates for specific imaging modalities and individual types of scans.

Not a member of the Imaging Performance Partnership? Check out our website to learn more.

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