Alara targets MetriScan at office densitometry market


The hospital bone densitometry sector may be nearing saturation, but that's not stopping vendors from trying to broaden the penetration of BMD technology. The latest contender is MetriScan, developed by Hayward, CA-based Alara. MetriScan is a low-cost, storage phosphor-based bone mineral density (BMD) system marketed prinicipally to primary care physicians.

Designed for in-office BMD testing of patients at risk for osteoporosis and related bone fracture, MetriScan could be economical enough for many office-based practices that couldn't afford the technology until now. The scanner's digital radiographic absorptiometry uses storage phosphor technology to estimate relative phalangeal bone density of the three middle fingers. Storage phosphor is commonly used in computed radiography digital x-ray systems.

MetriScan is a self-contained tabletop device consisting of an x-ray source, small monitor, keypad, finger scanner, and printer. The system received Food and Drug Administration 510(k) clearance in May.

Thanks to storage phosphor technology, speed is a key benefit of MetriScan, according to Alara executives. Entering patient information takes about 10 seconds, followed by a scan that occurs in 1/3 of a second, according to Nat Bowditch, vice president of sales and marketing. Physicians can review the results about 40 seconds later. The storage phosphor plate is then erased internally to prepare for the next test.

"In a busy practice, you could stick this by a blood pressure device and make it part of the exam for patients who meet the criteria and should be tested," Bowditch said.

MetriScan is indicated for use in estimating relative bone mineral density (via a T-score), and is also cleared by the FDA to monitor changes in bone mass over time due to drug therapy, according to Alara.

Alara views primary care physicians, internists, and obstetricians/gynecologists as its target markets for MetriScan, and has set up a direct sales force to handle this segment. To remove the burden of the up-front capital equipment expense of MetriScan, Alara is offering the system to any physician on a fee-per-scan basis, for $20 per study, with no long-term commitment. Outright purchase of a system costs about $20,000.

While MetriScan is designed to appeal to primary care physicians, recent Medicare reimbursement changes may also make it attractive to hospital radiology departments as well, according to Allan Fleischer, president and CEO.

"With the implementation of the new outpatient prospective payment system effective August 1, all bone densitometry tests now fall under the same APC code," he said. "As such, studies performed using MetriScan would be paid the same as a [dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry] system. Those hospitals that haven’t used BMD technology may be able to get into it with our device."

Alara is looking at selling MetriScan directly to prospective hospital radiology clients. The firm is also evaluating whether to create partnerships with other companies that have a stronger presence in the hospital radiology market, Fleischer said.

MetriScan is currently available in Europe, having received the CE Mark. The firm is in the process of setting up a distributor network to handle international sales and marketing, he said.

In addition to MetriScan, Alara also manufacturers DenOptix, a storage phosphor-based digital dental imaging system for dentists. DenOptix is distributed by Alara's OEM partner, Dentsply, and has been installed at over 3,000 dentist offices worldwide.

By Erik L. Ridley staff writer
October 3, 2000

Related Reading

FDA clears Alara digital bone densitometer, June 14, 2000

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