Not long ago, MRI users saw a shortage in the liquid helium supply that lasted several years. This was followed, until recently, by a period of recovery as government stockpiles were opened and a portion of that stored helium was released onto the market. Now, however, there is a sort of "shortage 2.0" in effect. To help all you MRI users better understand the scenario this time around, we'll share some details about the current shortage and what you can expect from it.
Where's All the Helium?
The demand for helium has never been higher than it is today. Domestically, we are seeing a significant shortage due to commitments with government contracts, high international demand, fewer new sources, and waste. This puts providers who supply the medical field in a bind for supply as they work to honor their existing customer contracts.
Changing Helium Allocations
In most cases, we'll see re-implementation of force majeure, which will require helium buyers to work within a specified allotment of liters. This will likely necessitate a re-evaluation of where and when to spread this allocation around.
Refill Lead Times
Lead times for helium fills have increased and can be expected to increase further as providers wait for helium. If you call to schedule a helium fill, don't be surprised if your provider is booking three weeks out.
There is, very nearly, an unspoken moratorium on spot fills. Due to the tight helium supply, providers are reserving their helium primarily for their contract customers.
In keeping with the laws of supply and demand, the tight helium supply is pushing the cost per liter upward. Presently, end users are seeing helium prices around $30 per liter or more.
How Long Will this Shortage Last?
Some suppliers have reported new helium sources slated to start pushing product in 2020. We anticipate the shortage beginning to alleviate late that year or in the first half of 2021 as these sources come online and ramp up. We will continue to keep you in the loop as new information becomes available.
If your MRI system(s) is already under contract for helium fills, you may see your fills spread out and your allocations reduce, but providers are putting plans in place to sustain contract customers through the lean time. If you're looking at adding new MRI units to your equipment stable or have been refilling your existing systems on a call-by-call basis, you may need to get under contract with a provider to get the helium you need.
Written by Simeon Lowe
Simeon Lowe is the Customer Service Manager at Block Imaging. He loves snowboarding, playing music, Godzilla movies, and the Detroit Lions. He also loves helping customers through their toughest equipment disasters with calmness and efficiency, so they can get back to serving the patients that rely on them.