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Buying a Breast Ultrasound Machine: Prices, Features, and Advice

Ultrasound technology uses sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. The sonographer, or ultrasound technician, places the transducer (probe) on the skin, gliding it over a thin layer of gel. This allows physicians to examine, diagnose, and treat a variety of potential medical issues without performing an incision or subjecting the patient to radiation or contrast dyes.

Breast ultrasound allows medical professionals to examine the breast after a mammogram returns abnormal results, without having to perform a biopsy of the mass detected in the mammogram. It also provides the doctor greater detail about the mass.

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Applications of a Breast Ultrasound Machine

The most common reason a physician orders a breast ultrasound is to diagnose any abnormalities detected during a physical exam, a mammogram, or an MRI. The imagery produced during an ultrasound offers a clearer picture of the abnormality, such as whether it is solid or filled with fluid, or even a combination of both.

Ultrasound reveals more abnormalities than mammography, and is available to more women than MRI is. Doctors also use ultrasound to guide biopsy procedures, and as an alternative for women with a high cancer risk or who are pregnant and therefore unable to undergo MRI or mammography.

Questions to Answer before You Buy

When purchasing a breast ultrasound machine, consider a variety of factors, such as budget, how the machine will be used and by whom, and what happens after you sign the contract.

What is your budget?

Your budget needs to include the full cost of purchasing and owning an ultrasound machine. In addition to the machine's price tag, budget for the service contract and the cost of accessories and the parts that most commonly require replacement (listed below). Consider also whether your team of ultrasound techs requires more training than is included in the purchase of the unit. If the machine is an upgrade on your current model, or uses newer technology, your team may need more in-depth training.

If your budget forbids purchasing your dream machine, consider a refurbished model, or one of the discounted models by the same manufacturer. Each option comes with a significantly lower price tag. If you opt for a used machine, talk to the techs from the facility selling the unit for information about it.

What features do you need?

Talk to your sonographers to discover what features they need to achieve the greatest efficiency in performing their jobs. They can also share their wish lists, as well as tell you which features they don't really need.

Are replacement parts readily available?

Replacement parts are a given, so make sure replacement parts for your model are easy to find and affordable. The most common parts that require replacement are the casters, keyboards, keys and buttons, monitor, power supplies, and upper control panel.

Did you take it for a test drive?

For this, grab your most experienced ultrasound technician to join you in taking your chosen model out for a test drive. He or she knows what to look for and can determine whether the controls are intuitive. Just like test driving a car, this is where you learn how well the machine handles and performs.

What type of support do you get after you sign on the dotted line?

This requires looking closely at the warranty and the maintenance contract. How long does the warranty last, and what does it include? Which services does your maintenance agreement include? Does the contract renew automatically each year? Do you have easy access to technical support? Negotiate everything you can and ask plenty of questions before signing. Once you sign, you lose the ability to negotiate.

Breast Ultrasound Machine Average Costs

Ultrasound machines vary widely in price, just like any other major purchase (think of your last car purchase). However, the typical price smaller clinics and hospitals pay ranges between $20,000 and $40,000, though price tags may be significantly higher or lower than that average.

GE offers portable, refurbished models starting at around $16,000 and ranging up to the mid-40s. SonoScope units range from around $4,000 all the way to $46,000 and higher. Philips models start at around $20,000 for a refurbished unit and go up to around $80,000 for a new unit.

Additional Costs

After paying for the unit, you have other costs to consider. Delivery averages around $300. If you require more in-depth training for your techs, this ranges between $1,000 and $5,000. Expect your maintenance contract to cost you about 15 percent of the unit price. A black and white printer costs around $1,000, while a color model tops out around $3,000. You'll also need accessory packs that include gel, lotion, and pads.

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