Ultrasound is ultra-helpful—and pays for itself

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May 01, 2007

Two to three times a day Dr. Edgar F. Folkers Jr., owner of Mission Viejo Animal Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif., puts his ultrasound unit to work for him. He commonly uses it to diagnose bladder problems and to collect urine samples by cystocentesis—using ultrasound to guide the collection needle into overweight or large pets.

Dr. Folkers wanted the machine so he could offer more complete service to clients and better medicine for patients. "I'm inquisitive, and the ultrasound unit gives me a few more answers without having to refer cases," he says.

But he knows his limits. Dr. Folkers and his team send ultrasound readings with copies of lab work and radiographs over the Internet to a specialist for a second opinion on complicated cases. His choice of machine lets him do this—it's equipped with a separate computer to prepare reports for himself, for the client, and for the off-site specialists.

Dr. Folkers has leased a $32,000 unit for $845 a month, or $10,140 per year. For the first few months he learned how to use the machine and interpret the results. Only then did he start charging clients a small fee.

"Later I upped my fees to slightly more than I charge for radiographs, because the experts kept telling me—and I learned—that you can learn more from an ultrasound than you can from a radiograph," he says.

Dr. Folkers charges $25 for an ultrasound that assists in the collection of routine urine samples, $85 for a bladder ultrasound, $125 for a pregnancy check, and $245 for an abdominal exam. He performed 430 cystocentesis ultrasounds in 2006 for total additional income of $10,700, which paid the lease. Income from any other tests then is pure profit.

If you are thinking about buying an ultrasound machine, Dr. Folkers recommends choosing the best unit you can afford—a better machine means better results—and springing for the in-house training most companies offer when you buy the machine.