By Marianne Matthews
Across the country, hospitals large and small are faced with a difficult trifecta of tasks: Improve quality, improve patient outcomes, and reduce costs. Radiology departments are feeling the pressure to help their organizations meet these goals, and making the most of primary imaging might be one way to get there. Just prior to RSNA, Axis Imaging News spoke with David Widmann, President and Chief Operating Officer of Konica Minolta Medical Imaging, about how healthcare providers can leverage the potential of primary imaging technology.
IE: Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Widmann: I joined Konica Minolta about 10 months ago. My previous experience includes 22 years at GE Healthcare both in services and in product leadership for the x-ray product line. I have a depth of global background that enables me to help us transform a company that’s been known for quality and technology and to help position where we are going with Konica Minolta’s primary imaging product line.
IE: In this era of healthcare reform, what do you believe are the most pressing challenges providers are facing today?
Widmann: Our hospital customers are really under siege today. Hospitals are being challenged to be more efficient, to deliver better quality of care, and to do it in a patient-centric or patient individualistic manner. The health system as a whole can’t support the cost that exists today.
You’ve got a U.S. healthcare system that’s spending nearly twice per capita—twice as a percentage of GDP as any other health system in the world—yet our outcomes are not as good as every other nation’s outcomes.
So in a system like this where we as patients demand perfection, we demand better care, faster care, it is a challenging time for hospitals. Today’s hospitals have to adjust both to the economics and to the clinical needs.
In the area we play in—in the primary imaging area—60-70% of all diagnostic imaging procedures are either x-ray or ultrasound.
So, what better way to help our customers than by providing more efficient solutions that can help drive productivity or deliver a better quality of image as your first image—your primary image—so that our customers can better predict, better prescribe, or better treat the patient without having to do secondary unnecessary exams.
IE: How exactly do you define primary imaging and why is it important?
Widmann: Primary imaging refers to those imaging procedures that are done first. Advanced imaging is easy to define; it’s your CT scan, MRI, PET/CT, or MR-focused guided ultrasound. These advanced imaging procedures are the gold standards, and they are what you would want if the patient indeed needs it.
However, typically, before you have any advanced imaging procedure you will generally have an x-ray or ultrasound. Nearly 100% of the time you will precede any one of those advanced imaging procedures with an x-ray or ultrasound That’s your primary imaging—your first imaging—and it is what determines whether the patient goes home, is treated on the spot, or whether a CT or MRI is necessary.
Today’s hospitals are concerned about getting the patient quickly to the next level of either treatment or additional investigation. That’s the purpose of the X-ray or ultrasound image. These tests are generally more accessible and tend to be more efficient in terms of the number of patients you can process on a piece of equipment per day. And, the cost per procedure is generally lower.
IE: CMS has charged hospitals with improving quality. They are going to be measured and reimbursed on meeting specific quality mandates, such as patient satisfaction and safety. Where does a primary imaging company like Konica Minolta come into play on this matter?
Widmann: Well, if you take technology like Konica Minolta’s and start to apply it to the actual clinical practice, you’ll see how primary imaging can impact on quality outcomes. If I’m a patient and I can have an easily accessible x-ray and be immediately treated in the ER, I am a happy patient. What the hospitals are looking for is speed—so again, X-ray and ultrasound—the ability to use tools for investigational as well as diagnostic purposes allows the physician to move that patient, treat that patient quicker. It’s one step in the process. Your primary image—and what we’re enabling with the technologies that we bring—is that ability to bring to the physician the tools to make the next decision much more rapidly.
In addition, CMS is also mandating utilization, so there is a second piece to this, which is “how do I more effectively use the equipment that I do have?” Again, digital imaging is providing the ability to take many more images in a room than you might have in a more manual CR-type environment where you’re moving cassettes around.
It allows the hospital for its investment to better utilize the equipment it does have and not have to invest in as much equipment, in some cases, or to reduce overall costs. Or, to deploy people differently around the patient instead of around operating and maintaining equipment.
IE: How about patient safety? That’s one of the CMS quality measures.
Widmann: Yes, patient safety, which with primary imaging really ties into the dose area. With ultrasound, obviously, there is no dose. Today, a digital x-ray on a Konica Minolta panel, the radiation dose of that exam is less than the dose you’d get when you fly from New York to London. It’s extremely efficient from a patient safety standpoint.
Our product design also enhances safety. Our Aero DR panel, for example, is a totally sealed detector and so it has an internal power source that doesn’t need to be replaced. It’s a big feature with customers because it helps control infection. Since it has no openings, body fluids can’t be trapped and passed from one patient to the next. I believe Konica Minolta’s is the only panel in the industry that is designed this way and it’s a very unique feature.
IE: What do you plan to announce at your RSNA Press Conference?
Widmann: We are a large company with a tremendous heritage in technology and imaging, but that story is more dominant in Japan, quite frankly. Our intent is to be able to share that story with our customers and potential customers and how we are investing in this area of primary imaging in a time when many companies may not be. For Konica Minolta, it is the sole area we are focused on. We are not moving into advanced imaging.
So the purpose of our press conference is not only to launch new primary imaging products which are quite substantial in themselves—ultrasound and handheld ultrasound—but also to share the story of who we are and where we’re going.
We are staying pretty focused in the primary imaging arena; rather than trying to be a full line producer or trying to compete with the Big 3. That’s not Konica Minolta’s intention. Rather, our intention is to be very, very good in this primary imaging space. We believe we are in a unique position in terms of our focus, our technology contribution, and the products we bring.
IE: Looking beyond the products. How does the Konica Minolta team help today’s providers meet the challenges they face?
Widmann: At the end of the day, we’re known for being consultants to our customers, and providing a high level of service. Konica Minolta has an outstanding reputation in pre- and post-sale support of the customer. For 6 years running, MD Buyline has recognized Konica Minolta as being number 1, and not by a small margin, in terms of the service we provide to our customers. Our team has embraced and focused on primary imaging, and have made themselves very knowledgeable in those areas. Our people are close to and understand our customers’ true problems, so we can help solve individually each of our customer’s challenges.