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Buying a 3D Ultrasound Machine: Costs, Applications, and Features

With a standard ultrasound machine, the system stores whichever images the sonographer selects. A 3D ultrasound machine works differently, as it continually stores images collected by the ultrasound probe. This results in a quicker process for two reasons. First, the ultrasound technician need not spend time selecting each image. Second, patients receive fewer callback requests with 3D volumetric ultrasounds, as images are available for viewing right at the workstation.

The Advantages of 3D

2D ultrasound is a wonderful diagnostic tool that has helped doctors for over 40 years. However, it does have a few weaknesses that 3D technology addresses. For example, a traditional ultrasound image is exactly what it sounds like: a flat plane. The image relies on the sonographer controlling the transducer. To get a full picture of an organ, the tech must take images from multiple angles and form a mental impression. Think of it as the difference between a drawing of a square and a drawing of a cube

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Acquiring images with 2D technology also requires manual control, whereas 3D imagery does not. When diagnosing and determining treatment or procedures, the ultrasound technician must create the image from a specific location within the body and then be able to reproduce that same image at a later time. The manual control aspect of 2D imagery makes this extremely challenging.

Closely related, as it concerns using ultrasound imagery for diagnostic purposes, measuring volume accurately with 2D imagery is at best difficult and at worst inaccurate. Finally, 3D ultrasound allows viewing of planes not accessible with traditional ultrasound imagery.

Buying Advice for a 3D Ultrasound Machine

Any large purchase requires thought and planning, especially one that involves signing a contract (as purchasing ultrasound machines typically does).

Think about your budget

Consider the full cost of the machine when arriving at a budget. This includes the cost of the machine, the service contract, and replacing accessories and parts users tend to burn through more quickly. Don't forget training, either. Basic training is typically included with purchase, but make sure that training includes all your techs require, especially if you're moving into a more technologically advanced model, such as switching from 2D to 3D.

The most popular manufacturers tend to cost more, of course, but if brand concerns you, consider the manufacturer's discount line as well as refurbished units. Do some research online, paying special attention to reviews from verified purchasers and technicians you know use the machines.

What are your must-have features?

Will the machine receive a lot of use? Which features are "must-haves?" Ask your ultrasound technicians to provide input here, as they have the best knowledge about what features they truly need, which ones they'd appreciate but aren't crucial, and which are superfluous.

What does the maintenance contract include?

Review the warranty carefully to understand what it includes and how long it lasts. Also, consider the service contract and its terms. Does it automatically renew, or levy cancellation fees? What does it cover in the event repairs are necessary? Discuss all of these issues before you buy, and don't be afraid to negotiate for better terms! Your leverage disappears the second you sign that contract.

Is it easy to find replacement parts?

Even the most expensive models require you to replace parts occasionally. The most common replacement items are the casters, keyboards, monitor, keys and buttons, power supplies and upper control panel. These are the items you want to ensure are readily available and affordable before purchasing the unit.

Did you run a performance check?

Before purchasing, take your most experienced technician along for a test drive of the unit you're interested in buying. This is the only reliable way to discover how the machine performs and how intuitive its controls are.

3D Ultrasound Machine Average Costs

By any measurement, buying a 3D ultrasound machine is a major purchase and you'd appreciate an idea of the average cost. Unfortunately, there isn't one, since prices range from under $10,000 to over $200,000. However, we can say that the majority of units range between $20,000 and around $75,000.

GE sells refurbished models starting at around $20,000. A new GE Voluson E8 goes for around $45,000. At the lower end of the scale, SonoScape's models start at around $7,000 and go up into the mid-20s.

Additional Costs

Of course, you have other costs to consider than the unit price. Delivery typically sets you back around $300. You'll learn more during negotiation, but maintenance contracts typically cost around 15 percent of your purchase price. Of course, you need a printer; costs range between $1,000 and 3,000. Finally, you'll need to regularly replace the accessories you should receive with your purchase: gel, lotion, and pads.

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