This article will give you key factors to look for when purchasing an ultrasound machine. Use the information below to avoid “buyer’s remorse” when you act too quickly on a great deal instead of buying the perfect system that fits your needs. Remember that there are many vendors out there so articles like this will help you narrow your search to the top one or two potential winners in a crowded field.
1. Establish clinical need.
Each ultrasound machine has unique advantages and disadvantages. Some sonographers and radiologists love systems for body imaging, but have concerns when they switch to perform vascular imaging. Finding the right make and model of an ultrasound machine for your specific practice will take time and patience to work with vendors to review each system strengths and weaknesses. There will be different imaging needs for vascular, OB/GYN, breast, body, and pediatric applications. Don’t let the administration team steer you into a cost-efficient model that will not meet the needs of your radiologists and clinicians.
2. Match your needs to the type of system.
Currently, there are three types of ultrasound machines on the market; hand-held (also known as POCUS or point of care ultrasound systems), medium grade (smaller systems that are cart mounted) and full-sized systems. The smaller systems are great for doctors that want a quick look for vascular access. Medium grade systems will do a great job in the interventional suite or for limited clinical use in the emergency room. Full-sized systems will offer a wide array of capabilities but come with a higher price tag.
3. Solicit current internal and external customer feedback.
All ultrasound vendors will allow you to trial a new system. If you are unfamiliar with how to use a demo system then insist that an application specialist be onsite during the demonstration. You should have clear goals for the demonstration and possibly a feedback sheet for all users to complete after they try the system. Some ideas for your feedback grid are listed below. It is helpful to have your radiologists as well as your sonographers test out the system. Also, ask the vendor to include a list of external customers that you can call to solicit their feedback.
User demo feedback grid. Use a Likert scale or comment feedback sheet for the sonographers and radiologists. Try to use the same volunteer for all potential users of the system.
- Image quality using various transducers. List out each used for a specific exam.
- Ease and accuracy of automated report and measurement form filling.
- System ease of use (lighted keyboard and user controls, lightweight if portable work is required, the weight of transducers, connectivity with your RIS/PACS system to send measurement data).
- Clinical effectiveness – Imaging is good for all applications needed. Pay particular attention to the unit having good penetration of signal for obese patients.
- User comments about advanced applications that are being considered for purchase.
4. Leasing versus purchasing your ultrasound machine.
Ultrasound machines are not considered high dollar capital purchases, but the technology is rapidly changing. Short term (3-5 year) leasing arrangements may give you the biggest bang for your clinical dollar when you need to have the latest technology in your practice. The low cost of ultrasound machines is more easily recouped in an operating budget than a full capital outlay of funds.
5. Be sure you have the correct transducers (probes) included in your purchase.
This will be based on our clinical need and the demo that you did for the specific make and model. Try not to overbuy for probes that will never be used. You can always purchase probes at a later date and it is key to include pricing for all available probes on the quote. Make sure that the vendor gives you line item pricing for each probe. You can opt out those that are not needed at the time of purchase and insist that the pricing for optional probes is kept fixed for as long of a time period that you can negotiate in the sale.
6. Advanced applications on a full-size ultrasound machine should be reviewed as a group.
Consider if an application will be used enough to warrant the additional charge for the software. Applications like Elastography, 3D volume rendering, embedded artificial intelligence, and enhancements to workflow should be considered, but insist as a group whether or not it will be used routinely as part of your regular imaging requirements. Purchasing advanced applications as a “nice thing to have” usually means that they will sit unused and provide no clinical benefit nor have the potential to add revenue to your department.
7. Service coverage options.
You should ensure that you have at least 3-4 years included for system hardware/software and firmware coverage. You should also be sure that drop coverage is included on all of the probes. If it is a cardiology system, you need to be sure that the TEE probes are covered as well. Consider a “pool” coverage plan for all the transducers on all your ultrasound machines.
8. Sonographer and radiologist training.
Include as much training that you think is required for both your sonographers and radiologists. This should be negotiated upfront as part of the system purchase. Additional training can add tens of thousands of dollars onto the purchase price if you decide on a unit that is new to your facility. Some vendors will include limited training as part of the system purchase.
Acquiring a portable ultrasound machine for your practice doesn’t need to be stressful, but it does require considering a few things. If you have considered everything we have covered in this article, you should be set up well to make a sound decision on an investment. We hope this will help make the process as smooth as possible.