Portable X-ray services becoming more common

(Reuters Health) - Portable X-ray services are becoming more popular as patients seek medical care in familiar surroundings.

Proponents say-home X-ray services help frail patients avoid difficult and potentially hazardous trips to hospitals. Other patients seek in-home providers out of convenience, as an ankle or chest X-ray can take less than 20 minutes.

“We go to the patient and take the X-ray, rather than having the patient go to the doctor’s office,” said Paul Fowler, founder of Specialty Portable X-Ray, Inc. in New York.

“Usually, in about an hour after we take an X-ray we give these results directly to the doctor,” he told Reuters Health. “With the digital X-rays, we are using probably less exposure than you would at the hospital.”

Patients must have a doctor’s prescription for an x-ray, or for an ultrasound exam, which can also be done at home. Fowler’s company charges about $300 for a visit for patients without health insurance, he said. Some celebrities seek his services to avoid paparazzi and unwanted attention.

“The very wealthy who don’t want to go to the emergency room, they feel like they’re above that, they’ll call us and say, ‘I twisted my ankle, can you come over and take an X-ray of my ankle,’ ” he added. “I’ve been doing it for 35 years, it’s just gotten bigger and better over the years.”

Jacob R. Wuerstle, president of Diagnostic X-ray Service, Inc. in Pennsylvania, said portable X-rays are also used in assisted living facilities and prisons.

“We keep the patients in a setting that they’re familiar with, that they’re comfortable with,” he told Reuters Health. The option for home X-rays is especially helpful for elderly patients in snowy parts of the country.

His technicians scan more than 30,000 patients per year. Sessions cost about $200. “We use state-of-the-art equipment and we transmit right from the patient’s bedside to the radiologist,” he said.

Wuerstle said baby boomers are the fastest growing segment of clients.

Dr. James C. Carr, a professor of radiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, believes trained technicians using portable machines can provide quality scans for patients in rural areas or unable to move.

“As long as the equipment is being regulated and the technologists are satisfactorily trained, concerns can be mitigated,” he told Reuters Health.

But portable X-ray machines, while convenient, may be less accurate.

Dr. David Levin, professor and chairman emeritus of the Department of Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia said he would not recommend in-home X-rays for mobile patients.

“The quality of those images is usually not very good. If you compare the quality of those kinds of studies with the quality of a study that was performed in a hospital in a radiology department or in a private radiology office, there is going to be no comparison,” he told Reuters Health. “If a portable X-ray is absolutely necessary because of the patient’s clinical condition, then it’s justifiable.”

As the portable X-ray market grows, state and federal regulations for radiation protection must be followed, said Dr. William Thorwarth, Jr., chief executive officer of the American College of Radiology in Virginia.

“You want to be very certain that the technologist who’s acquiring the images is appropriately trained and qualified,” he told Reuters Health. “There needs to be appropriate precautions so that other people in the house are not exposed.”