One of the main goals of the medical profession is to improve patient health in as many ways as possible with the equipment at hand. Sometimes though, it can be easy to overlook some of the potential applications of our equipment and, thereby, miss out on the potential benefits. One such case is using bone density scanners (aka dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or, DEXA scanners) to measure body composition.
We won't say that nobody is using this tool, its use has actually been on the rise, but we will say that it is still, in many cases, an underused option on DEXA scanners that can help guide patients to healthier lifestyle decisions and imaging facilities to untapped value-adding opportunities. Below, we'll discuss why DEXA body comp is overlooked and which health professionals stand to gain the most by unlocking its potential.
DEXA Body Composition Scanning
DEXA Is the Gold Standard
Getting on a scale helps monitor changes in your weight, but it doesn’t tell you anything about what that weight consists of. A full-body DEXA scan can measure the water, protein, minerals, and fat in a patient's body and separate it into percentages of fat mass and fat-free mass. Knowing this information can be valuable in planning and goal-setting for lifestyle choices like diet and exercise. Planning in these areas is vital to meeting that goal we mentioned earlier: improved health.
There are a number of methods of measuring body fat, from skin fold calipers (available at most vitamin or health food stores) to MRI scans (largely cost-prohibitive). Each comes with its own margin of error. Among the methods most commonly used, DEXA is one of the most accurate.
Why It's Overlooked
DEXA scanners are used primarily to track bone mineral density and to monitor the onset and progression of osteoporosis. With MediCare guidelines recommending regular bone density scans for post-menopausal women, the equipment has an almost built-in clientele exclusively for its bone scanning capabilities. In the right setting, this traffic can occupy most of a system's available time.
DEXA scans for bone density are generally covered by patient insurance while DEXA scans for body comp are generally not. Body comp scans sometimes also need to be prescribed. The fact that patients may need to visit their doctor first and pay for scanning out of pocket serves as a deterrent. Furthermore, from the perspective of the imaging facility, if they can fill out their DEXA volume and their bottom line with "sure thing" covered scans, there's no need to attempt to monetize an uncovered capability.
Where the Opportunity Lies
Where DEXA body composition testing seems to be thriving is in fitness/wellness arena. Providers are now charging patients/clients $50-$125 out-of-pocket per scan for the luxury of knowing the composition of their body. The question is, could body composition-capable DEXA systems currently located in traditional settings like imaging centers, hospitals, physician’s offices, etc. be further utilized by offering body composition testing services to their current patients, as well as to members of local fitness centers, gyms, CrossFit organizations, and more?
When participants are provided with detailed reports showing their lean body mass vs fat mass distribution on a regular basis, it serves as a benchmark and helps chart one's progress in a fitness/nutrition program. As fitness experts will tell you: losing weight is helpful, but not as helpful as losing fat. Being able to differentiate between the tool is another tool to help it happen.
For patients/clients paying out-of-pocket, DEXA body composition scanning is a valuable resource to move toward becoming healthier. The scans are highly accurate and the results can be used to create plans that reduce body fat and, thereby, risk for a variety of conditions from diabetes, to hypertension, to heart attacks.
For some imaging facilities, DEXA body comp scans offer another way to serve patients/clients with equipment they may already have, and generate additional revenue while doing it. If the traffic from recommended osteoporosis screenings doesn't quite fill out the schedule, leaving that space open for body comp referrals can create a win-win scenario.
And for fitness professionals, body comp is a valuable tracking tool that shows their clients if their program is working. What fitness professional doesn’t want their client to be successful using their program and be able to visually (and accurately) show them that it’s working?
If you're interested in learning more about body comp-enabled DEXA scanners, like models, pricing, availability, and more, download our free guide below: