Facing "significant growth" in orthopedics and spine care, Parkridge Medical Center leaders hope that an over-$2 million investment in a new magnetic resonance imaging unit will expand their services in that area.
But before that can happen, the hospital, which is owned by HCA Healthcare, will have to go before a state board to show that the potential purchase isn't just part of a medical arms race in a region where local three hospitals - Parkridge, Memorial Health Care System and Erlanger Health System - hotly compete over market share.
Erlanger's recently-released budget calls for $2.7 million to be put toward a new MRI machine, and last fall the hospital was given state approval to buy a PET-CT scanner as a part of its efforts to create new cancer and neuroscience centers at the hospital.
And Memorial, which has just finished an $85 million heart center, has a new division completely devoted to imaging.
MRI units have become a standard feature at hospitals over the last decade, with 25 different units being installed at hospitals and outpatient facilities throughout Hamilton, Bradley, Marion and Rhea counties over the last 10 years, according to the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency.
But while they are standard, state regulators are tasked with making sure they don't become too common.
Under state law, MRI units qualify as "major medical equipment" - machinery that costs more than $2 million. And hospitals can't just buy such equipment whenever they want.
"Medical services like MRI are a very expensive investment, and it drives health care costs," said Melanie Hill, executive director of health services and development with the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency.
"With the government being the biggest payer with health care costs, these costs are very carefully regulated."
And because such scans are a profitable service, there's also the worry that having too many could drive higher competition for profit, and detract from a hospital's ability to provide necessary unprofitable services, like emergency care and obstetrical care.
By the end of the week Parkridge intends makes its case for the new scanner in what is called a "certificate of need," a permit that allows health care institutions to undertake major projects, like purchasing an MRI.
"The new MRI offers faster, quieter scanning with greater detail, and it has a higher maximum patient weight so it can accommodate larger patients," Parkridge spokeswoman Alison Counts said.
In addition to orthopedics, the new unit can be used for cardiac, neurological, breast and full-body imaging, she said.
Parkridge now has three MRI units - one at three of its five campuses, Counts said. One of those was purchased in 1995, state data shows. Memorial now has six MRI units, and Erlanger has four.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison Belz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.