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Bone Scanner Provides New Income Stream

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Some imaging centers have developed a new source of income from a not-at-all-new piece of equipment: body composition studies using a bone densitometer, or DXA scanner.

DOTmed News did a recent report on the trend. Michael Kelly, business leader for GE Lunar bone densitometers, told DOTmed:

What we’re finding is that a lot of people have concentrated on bone density, so as reimbursements and some other business has fallen off for them, they’ve found that by using body comp, they’re getting more utilization out of their systems.

Not just doctors and imaging centers but also health clubs have begun using the machines to do a quick (six or seven minutes), comprehensive look at fat content and concentrations in the entire body, plus muscle and bone mass. Bone densitometers have always been able to do body composition scans without additional hardware or software, but GE and Hologic have released software updates making the readouts easier to interpret and more comprehensive.

Sometimes, the humans who interpret the scans require knowledge upgrades as well. “You need someone working within your office that’s an expert at body composition so that they they can interpret the results for the patients in a way that they’ll understand, so it’s not just data being shoved at you,” said David Parker, PhD, executive director of the Washington Institute of Sports Medicine in Kirkland, Washington. For one thing, Dr. Parker said, his team has to convert the metric readouts into data that his American customers can fathom.

Insurance doesn’t cover the scans. But they generally cost about $125, so most patients can afford them. Radiation exposure is always a concern, but the dosage is minimal—by some measures equivalent to a day’s exposure from normal environmental sources.

“I think that DXA is probably the clinical gold standard for body composition assessment, and there are three really good uses for that today,” said Neil Binkley, MD, co-director of the Osteoporosis Clinical Center & Research Program at the University of Wisconsin.

“The first is obesity and management of obesity. The second is sports performance, and the third is sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and muscle function that happens to us as we get older.”

Related CME seminar (up to 20 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Practical Body Imaging

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