The decision process required to buy an ultrasound machine includes a range of factors. Cost is important, of course, but there are other key considerations. Do you need a portable or console ultrasound machine? What type of imaging software best suits your needs? Would you consider purchasing a refurbished device?
Like most medical equipment, ultrasound machines can become complicated quickly. Choosing the right one is important to not just your budget, but also your clinical workflow and quality of care. It's critical to do your homework and research all your options before you buy an ultrasound machine.
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1. Understand your needs.
The first and arguably most important step is to identify a clear list of your needs. Without knowing your own requirements for your ultrasound systems, there's little hope you will select the best-quality device possible. Start by asking yourself some basic questions and making a list of your requirements.
What is your primary use for an ultrasound machine?
All ultrasound machines use high-frequency sound waves to create an internal image of structures within the body, such as tissue and organs. While the concept remains constant, the precise uses of an ultrasound machine vary quite a bit. Ultrasound technology is a powerful diagnostic tool with widespread applications, so it's important to consider your intended use for the machine before buying. Are you planning to use an ultrasound machine for pregnancy scans or to examine internal organs? Do you intend to perform ultrasound therapy with the machine? The answers to these questions should influence your ultimate decision.
Do you need a portable ultrasound machine?
Ultrasound machines come in portable and console versions, so you should also think about mobility when doing your research. This is where it's important to think about clinical workflows: What type of machine would help your healthcare providers provide the best possible quality of care? Some environments would do well with a console system, while others require the mobility a portable ultrasound machine affords. For those in need of extreme mobility, there are even handheld ultrasound machines.
2. Determine your budget.
While cost isn't everything, it's certainly a big piece of the puzzle. Once you've identified your needs and made a list, it's time to crunch some numbers. There are a few options that could save you money, and it's worth considering whether you'd like to pursue them prior to deciding. Again, clinical workflows should be top of mind, so balancing cost and quality should be the primary objective. [Interested in practice management systems? Check out our best picks and reviews.]
To lease or buy an ultrasound machine?
Leasing an ultrasound machine could be a more cost-effective option than sinking $5,000 to $100,000 into a device. Ultrasound machines can get expensive quickly and are depreciating assets, especially as new equipment is manufactured. Rather than shelling out a large amount of money for a machine that will be obsolete soon enough, it might be worth finding a device available for lease for a few hundred dollars per month.
Refurbished or new ultrasound machine?
Refurbished ultrasound machines are a more cost-effective option and often work reliably well. When crafting your budget, you should consider purchasing a refurbished device. Even if you decide you'd like to purchase a new device, requesting pricing for refurbished machines can give you an important point of leverage through the negotiation process by demonstrating to vendors that you're willing to hunt for a bargain. If they think you're prepared to buy a refurbished machine instead, they might be willing to drop the price on a new machine to make a better sale.
What's the cost of installation?
Many ultrasound machines require installation or training for staff members. These represent additional costs on top of the price of the machine itself. It could run you up to $6,000 depending on the device, so be sure to work those numbers into your budget as well.
3. Identify equipment and software.
Once you've identified your needs and budget, it's time to start investigating what's on the market. You'll need to find the ultrasound machine itself, of course, but also other equipment such as software and probes.
What type of software and features do you need?
Ultrasound imaging works by using sound waves to produce pictures of internal structures, a process known as sonography. A transducer is used to send waves into the body and receive those that bounce back, thereby producing the image.
The software that is installed on your machine can change its capabilities. For example, some applications can add elements like skeletal rendering or contrast resolution to the image. Others include analytical tools that can help providers identify patterns within an image. There's a wide range of applications available, so examine software against your list of needs to see if any must-haves are available. Of course, you'll also want software that is user-friendly, reliable and compatible with your machine.
What type of transducer do you need?
The transducer, or probe, is a key part of ultrasound imaging. There is a wide range of probes available because each part of the body demands a different type. Linear transducers, for example, are used for things like vascular examinations and measuring body fat. Convex transducers, on the other hand, are suitable for diagnosis of organs and abdominal examinations. There are also phased array transducers, pencil transducers, endocavitary transducers and more. Compare available transducers to your list of needs and consider their compatibility with each ultrasound machine you're considering before making a buying decision.
Do you need a service contract?
Service contracts can add an extra and repetitive cost to owning an ultrasound machine. For some, it might be a necessary expense, while for others it could be wasted money. It's important to assess the device's condition and history, as well as any service contract that comes along with it. If you're going to be stuck in a pricey service contract on a brand-new, reliable machine, you might want to consider other options. On the other hand, if you're considering a refurbished machine with an unknown history, a service contract could be protection against device failure. [Interested in electronic medical records? Check out our best picks and reviews.]
4. Buy an ultrasound machine that suits your workflow.
Purchasing a machine that matches the clinical workflow of your medical practice or hospital is the most important part of purchasing any medical equipment. While it's tempting to buy the shiniest, newest model with all the bells and whistles, you might be better served by a reliable machine that meshes nicely with your needs and preferences. Be sure to include all providers and staff who will be working with the machine in your decision if possible, because the more seamless the integration of new technology is in your medical environment, the better the quality of care you can provide.
Balancing each of these factors is critical to making the right choice. The decision-making process will look different for every medical practice or hospital, because it is based around a unique set of requirements and workflows. However, keeping each of these factors in mind will serve you will when choosing the ultrasound machine that will best fit your small practice's needs.