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The Global Ultrasound Technology Business is Booming: Will U.S. Techs Benefit?

By Aimee Hosler,

The sonography business is booming. According to an October 2010 report from GBI Research, the global market for diagnostic imaging is expected to exceed $24.4 billion by 2016, with the two primary drivers being nuclear imaging systems and ultrasound technology. What's fueling the ultrasound boom, and what does it mean for ultrasound technicians?

Ultrasound Makes Global Revenue Gains

Ultrasound-related revenues are at an all time high internationally. According to GBI Research, much of the growth isn't within the U.S., but within emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil. The primary factors encouraging growth in these countries include:

  • Increased government health care spending
  • Rising personal incomes
  • Higher demand and interest for ultrasound services

New Technologies Drive the U.S. Ultrasound Market Despite Cuts

Here in the U.S., ultrasound technology services are battling Medicare cuts, declining reimbursement levels, and a patient base with tightened purse strings. Still, the U.S. is expected to remain the global ultrasound market leader thanks to new technologies. Pocket-sized, portable ultrasound devices, for instance, earned FDA approval just before the 2010 Olympics. The machines, which weigh less than a pound, made their debut diagnosing injured athletes at the winter games, and have since been put to good use in disaster relief efforts worldwide.

While new technologies often mean new and innovative ways to use ultrasound, these new procedures are often performed by nurses or physicians rather than by ultrasound technicians. Fortunately, ultrasound technician careers are expected to grow despite these setbacks.

The Future Remains Bright for U.S. Ultrasound Technicians

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ultrasound technician jobs are expected to grow by an impressive 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, ranking them among the fastest growing careers in the country. While hospitals will still employ most ultrasound techs, a strong push toward outpatient care should boost employment in physicians' offices and medical and diagnostic labs.

The primary drivers of ultrasound tech career growth in the U.S. include:

  • An aging population
  • Replacement needs for retiring techs
  • Cheaper ultrasound equipment

Ultrasound Technician Schools Meet Growing Demand, Changing Field

Ultrasound technicians can hone their skills a number of ways, including on-the-job training, but this might be changing. According to the BLS, more employers than ever before prefer to hire those who have received formal training from accredited ultrasound technician schools. While two-year programs are most common, four-year programs are growing.

One reason for the push toward more intensive formal training is the potential for state-mandated licensure. While only two states currently require ultrasound technicians to be licensed--New Mexico and Oregon--other states are expected to follow suit. The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) reports that it is working with governments to ensure mandated licensure creates minimal burden for ultrasound techs, but new requirements will undoubtedly require more training. In addition to required formal training, ultrasound technician certification and continuing education units (CEUs) that were once voluntary could become compulsory.

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