A linear accelerator is often considered a “workhorse” when it is used daily for what can be a decade or more. Some facilities with low patient-loads may still be using a machine that was new 20 years ago. Conversely, larger hospitals often replace their systems with a new model every few years. In the United States, it is most common for clinics and hospitals to upgrade every 10 to 15 years.
So, how do you know when it’s time to upgrade? The answer is, “it depends.” A few indicators that it is time to upgrade include:
1. You want to provide a higher quality of patient care and treat a wider variety of cases.
Newer technology can empower a facility to provide faster and more precise, or more integrated, treatment. An upgrade may allow a broader ability to take on any case. For example, an upgrade to offer SRS (Stereotactic Radio Surgery) to treat head and neck cases may be an option. Other common upgrades include:
- Upgrading the MLC
- Upgrading the portal imaging system
- Adding VMAT capabilities
- Upgrading the couch
2. The goal of your facility is to maintain a competitive edge.
Expanding your capabilities means referrals can also grow. Enhanced capabilities enable physicians to direct new types of treatment cases. Patients who had to be referred to another clinic may now come to your clinic.
3. Maintenance costs are adding up.
Most linacs will be under an annual service contract, with preventive maintenance visits throughout the year to keep the machines working smoothly. However, older machines that have reached their “end-of-life” may no longer be supported and, in worst-case scenarios, some of the replacement parts may not be available at all.
4. Replacing the entire machine is not an option.
Extending the life of a machine with upgrades is less costly than purchasing a new machine. It also means less downtime as your old machine is removed and a new one installed, a process which can take as long as five weeks. No machine means no treatments, and you risk losing patients.
Any of these reasons may compel you to consider replacing your facility’s linear accelerator. But if that’s the case, first consider adding upgrades. Upgrading your existing system can give you the power and capabilities you want, cost-effectively.
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