The choice between purchasing a nuclear camera or using a mobile service is an important decision for your practice. A broad range of factors shape the decision, and following a “cookie cutter” formula is not recommended. Understanding the unique dynamics at work in your practice can shed light on which choice is best for you and your patients. Let’s explore some key data points to review:
Study volume is an important metric when considering purchasing a nuclear camera vs. contracting with a mobile provider. On the low end, 60 studies per month could technically support camera ownership, but a monthly average of 120 is a more sustainable number. Below 100 studies per month becomes financially challenging and requires temporary staffing and other hybrid approaches to make the best of things. Another way to evaluate the volume question is on the number of days in the week in which you scan. Practices that prefer imaging fewer studies per day and more days per week will need creativity in managing their non-equipment costs to achieve reasonable profitability from their Nuclear Lab.
Established practice vs. start-up
Often, your prior experience can be a contributing factor in the decision. If you’ve previously owned a camera and understand the requirements, it’s easier to know if ownership is the right fit. If you are starting a practice, you could initially opt for a mobile service to get a better feel for your study volume before making a significant purchase decision. Given the various start-up expenses, including needing cash in the bank to fund the lag between your open day and cash flow back from the multiple payors, whether or not you want to tie up cash or credit resources for a significant purchase is a critical decision point. Physicians who open a smaller 1 to 4-provider practice versus a multi-physician practice often choose mobile services over ownership for similar reasons.
The value of the unknown
One major factor complicating the decision is clarity on the actual cost burden or potential profitability when purchasing a camera. Because mobile services typically use per-day or similar billing options, your financial risk is very low, and the practice can clearly understand the per-day costs and overall profit. Since camera costs (lease payment or depreciation plus repair and maintenance) are not the highest cost drivers, thinking that ownership is more profitable than a service is not a given. With pending insurance reimbursement changes, new payment models on the horizon, and the reality of appropriate use criteria, it isn’t easy to know the exact financial return you can achieve from a camera purchase.
The question of how to provide imaging services touches on a full spectrum of factors, including revenue, profitability, patient convenience, market perception, practice size, and patient satisfaction. The final decision is shaped by your study volume and how established your patient base is. Still, ultimately it comes down to how comfortable you are with the requirements of running a nuclear lab and your willingness to invest the time and energy into managing on your own.