OrrIf you missed the announcement of our nation’s new CEO (that’s Jeff Immelt, not George W.), then you obviously were not attending RSNA this year, where this little news topic was the single most talked about item among show attendees, including exhibitors, salespeople, administrators and even radiologists. Obviously, General Electric Co.’s board did not need a recount. So, in a warm farewell to Mr. Immelt, we ask — “How are the numbers going to be next quarter?”

Seriously, GE Medical has been transformed from a medical devices company into a medical devices earnings growth engine in the classic sense — leaving no customer underserved or under billed. And every other medical device company in this market was forced to react to GE — which plays into GE’s strengths and plan. At this juncture, it looks like a three-horse race among GE, Philips and Siemens for top-billing in radiology, with major supporting roles filled by Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Toshiba, Marconi, Hitachi, Varian and Hologic.

OK, OK, enough of the OEM nonsense. Let’s get back to the point of RSNA — new toys for radiologists, physicists, CIOs and administrators.

Radiology’s Future —
Full of images, short on radiologists

Radiology departments today have a broad array of imaging tools and techniques to deploy in search of healthcare problems of almost every kind. Douglas Maynard, M.D., noted in his President’s Address during the RSNA that the number of annual imaging procedures is expected to grow 50 percent from 300 million today to 450 million in 10 years, with only a 20 percent corresponding increase in radiologists. Maynard made this point in support of reworking the medical school quotas that limit the number of new radiology graduates. Good luck, but don’t hold your breath on this solution.

Adding to this burden is the exponential growth in the number of images per procedure and the addition of 3D capabilities. Check out the latest CT and MRI systems for the results these new imaging platforms and review workstations can deliver — literally hundreds and thousands of images per case, if you have the time and desire to so review them.

My expectation is that radiology departments will continue to watch the increased workload flow where it has been going for the past 10 years — to the specialty departments that have been adding imaging systems specially configured for their applications. Radiology as a group won’t be threatened as long as it helps, and doesn’t fight, the natural transition of the work to the therapy side of the house. So, the message to radiology OEMs is — start in radiology, then move to the specialty departments where the action will be longer term. Good examples are cardiology (CT, ultrasound and MRI) and C-arms (orthopedic, surgery).

PACS and CAD (computer-assisted detection) systems also factor into the dynamics of more images and more procedures. We are just seeing the end-of-the-beginning for CAD systems, as initially deployed by R2 Technology Inc. for mammography and lung cancer. The demand for these systems can only grow, given the workload and need for repetitive accuracy by radiologists. PACS are no longer an option. They now have become a required part of the imaging infrastructure, and every imaging procedure should be available online or it should not be performed. This should be the mission for RSNA next year, without exception. Radiologists and OEMs should show us the technology and economics to make this happen, so we can move on to providing better patient care with state-of-the-art technology, not film. If film is still in your future, check your calendar — you may still be living in the 20th century!

RSNA Footnotes
A study from Case Western University presented at RSNA noted that 90 percent of parents of children having diagnostic tests prefer to learn the results of the imaging procedure IMMEDIATELY, rather than waiting to learn the results from their regular doctor. Duh! Traditional radiologist behavior of interpreting the results — sending a report to the regular doctor — getting in the way of progress here. If you are a parent, ask about this before you even go for the test, and if they don’t offer the results right then, politely insist. I can’t think of any reason that waiting improves this process.

Also presented at RSNA was a functional MRI study on listening, comparing men with women, which found a significant difference. Men only used half their brain, while women used both halves. Does that imply men are more efficient?? Did we really need this study? I’m sure someone needed it.

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Doug Orr, president of J&M Group (Ridgefield, Conn.), consults with medical device companies in strategy and business development for emerging growth markets, notably radiology and cardiology. Comments and suggestions can be sent to [email protected].