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Buying a Handheld Ultrasound Machine: Costs, Uses, and Advice

Though ultrasound machines allow medical providers a noninvasive means to diagnose patients, determine treatment courses, and guide certain procedures, their cumbersome size presents difficulties for smaller clinics and hospitals. Enter the handheld, or portable, ultrasound machine.

Applications of a Handheld Ultrasound Machine

Physicians use handheld ultrasound machines to evaluate myriad conditions and symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and infection. They also let doctors examine internal organs without making a single incision. Doctors often use ultrasound technology to diagnose issues with the cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood vessels, and abdominal aorta.

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Moving down the body, ultrasound imagery of the digestive organs, such as the pancreas, gallbladder, and liver, helps detect disorder and determine treatment. Doctors also use the technology to examine reproductive organs such as the uterus, ovaries, and testicles.

Doctors evaluate numerous conditions, such as blood clots and abnormal blood flow, or tumors or vascular malformations. This type of imagery helps the doctor determine the right treatment course for each patient. They also use ultrasound during certain procedures, such as biopsies.

What to Consider before Buying

Consider a number of factors before making a purchasing decision. These include your budget, how the machine will be used and by whom, as well as what happens after you buy, such as obtaining replacement parts, customer support, and the warranty.

Know your budget

Top of the line machines always come at a higher price. If brand is important to you, but your budget forbids one of the top shelf models, consider a discount model from one of the top brands, or possibly a refurbished machine. With a bit of research, you can find top refurbished machines for significantly less than buying new. Pay close attention to reviews, especially if you find any written by a person who actually used the machine. That's the best indicator of the unit's quality.

Understand the features

How often do you expect to use the machine? Where? Will it move around a lot? Talk to your ultrasound technicians, as these are the best people to let you know what features they need and which ones are "nice to have" but not crucial to performing their jobs.

What about the maintenance contract?

What does the warranty cover, and when does it end? Different manufacturers offer different warranties, so consider both the expiration date and the service and contract terms provided. Does the service contract auto renew? Do you want it to? What about early cancellation fees? Remember, you can negotiate all of these items. Until, of course, you sign on the bottom line. Once that happens, you're locked into the contract.

You also want to make sure replacement parts are easy to find and not too expensive. Especially check availability on the parts that most often require replacement: casters, keyboards, keys and buttons, monitors, upper control panel, and power supplies.

Try before you buy

Grab your best tech and take your chosen model out for a test drive. That's really the only way to know how intuitive the machine is, whether it's easy to use or going to make your techs want to call in sick every day.

Handheld Ultrasound Machine Average Costs

Landing on an average cost for a handheld ultrasound machine is a bit like naming the average cost of a new car. In other words, not possible. However, even though units range from $5,000 to $200,000, the majority of new units fall within the $10,000 to $45,000 range. Refurbished machines are available for a few thousand dollars.

Even within manufacturers, prices vary greatly. SonoScape, for example, offers a handheld unit for about $4,200, as well as one priced at around $46,000. GE offers portable models starting at around $16,000, with their top models selling refurbished from about $20,000.

Additional Costs

In addition to the unit itself, you have a variety of other costs when you buy a handheld ultrasound unit. First, expect to pay around $300 for delivery. Next, you may have a cost for installation and training, so check before you buy. Usually, basic training is included in the purchase price. If you need something more in-depth, expect to pay anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000.

The maintenance agreement typically costs about 15 percent of the unit's price. You also need a printer. Black and white ultrasound printers run around $1,000 with higher-end models, like color or thermal printers, topping $3,000 or more. Finally, your unit should come with an accessory pack that includes gel, lotion, and pads, but you will need to replace these supplies fairly regularly.

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