Patients, especially those with an acute illness or injury, require accurate diagnoses by clinicians in order for them to quickly put together an effective care plan. Unfortunately, afflictions like heart disease often are discovered with little time to react, or after it’s too late.

Below, Martijn Hartjes, head of global product marketing, MRI, at Philips, sits down with AXIS Imaging News to discuss why he believes that an expanded use case for magnetic resonance (MR) technology could allow for earlier diagnoses of several diseases.

While MRI’s strength primarily has been in assessing neurological disorders, the technology shows promise for cardiology screenings, among others, notes Hartjes. MR can be used for stress testing a patient’s heart, for example, which is the type of routine screening that could provide patients with an earlier diagnosis, resulting in an earlier awareness of their disease and subsequent plan of care.

Martjin Hartjes

Martin Hartjes, head of global product marketing, MRI, at Philips.

AXIS Imaging News: What types of disease is MRI commonly used to diagnose today, and what are some of the conditions and/or diseases you feel MRI technology can also help physicians complete earlier, more confident diagnoses?

Martijn Hartjes: MRI’s strength has generally been in assessing neurological disorders, and we’re seeing the drive toward precision medicine spark innovation toward higher performing MRI systems to understand neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia or have the potential to give a more definitive answer for psychological diseases such as bipolar disorder and depression.

Using MRI, the understanding of these diseases in the brain may be able to be improved not just from an anatomical view, but also through functional imaging. This type of early detection, which often takes psychologists more time through multiple evaluations and trial and error, can potentially make a huge difference in patient outcomes.

MRI technology has the potential for diagnosing other conditions outside of the brain, particularly in cardiology and screenings for certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate. In terms of oncology, a mammogram is still the least expensive and easiest way to test for breast cancer. But, with high-risk patients, such as those with a genetic disposition to the disease or with dense breast tissue, clinicians can use MRI to better view and assess the potential threat of breast cancer. This may enable much earlier detection and better outcomes in terms of treatment.

AXIS: When it comes to cardiology and cardiac care, how can MRI technology help physicians make diagnoses?

Hartjes: Unfortunately, afflictions such as heart disease are too often discovered with little time to react or worse, when it’s too late. It places an importance on care plans from an early stage, meaning that a quick and confident diagnosis is key to improving the patient’s health. Heart disease in an early stage is currently diagnosed through a variety of tests such as blood tests, ECG records, or Holter monitoring. In the future, MRI may possibly be used for routine screenings, which might provide earlier awareness and help to facilitate a subsequent care plan for patients.

AXIS: How has MRI technology evolved to the point where it can be used as a diagnostic tool for a growing number of diseases?

Hartjes: The drive toward precision medicine and overarching population health management is encouraging the use of existing MRI technology to be leveraged in new, innovative ways. As we move to autonomous, AI-driven scanning, and emphasize personalized medicine, we’ve come to understand what role MRI, or imaging in general, can play in a certain disease’s pathway – whether it is simplifying the pathway, making it a pathway at a lower cost, or one with higher specificity. Imaging is often the start of a patient’s care journey and supports critical clinical decisions from prevention through treatment across the care continuum. More industry leaders are realizing that it impacts productivity, workflow, and care team satisfaction.

We are now seeing that MRI is a valuable alternative that can expedite diagnostics for a number of diseases that are currently being diagnosed through scanning with other imaging technology. Thankfully, we’re starting to see reimbursement for breast screening using MRI, and I believe we’ll see it develop for other screenings as we realize the unique value MRI can bring. This has the potential to help certain patients receive earlier diagnoses and enhance time-to-treatment.

AXIS: What are some of the solutions Philips offers today that are indicative of the advances in MRI technologies, and what types of innovations might we expect to see on the horizon?

Hartjes: Philips’ newest Ingenia portfolio of digital MRI solutions offers cutting-edge imaging techniques that prioritize the patient experience and image acquisition. The portfolio supports radiology departments by helping to enhance productivity, improving the patient and staff experience, while delivering better value-based care through improved imaging outcomes at lower costs.

The new solutions in the Ingenia portfolio are equipped with Compressed SENSE, which enables MRI scans to be performed up to 50% faster1 while maintaining high-quality imaging. With Philips MR Ingenia Elition 3.0T, we can help to improve productivity by simplifying patient handling at the bore with touchless guided patient set up in both 2-D and 3-D scanning. It also offers an immersive audio-visual experience to help calm patients and guide them through MRI exams.

Philips’ latest Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T has all of these functionalities while also enabling radiology departments to experience more productive2 helium-free MRI operations. This is made possible with Philips’ BlueSeal fully sealed magnet, which reduces the chance of potentially lengthy and costly disruptions, and virtually eliminates dependency on a resource with an unpredictable supply.

In terms of solutions on the horizon, we’re seeing the growth of adaptive intelligence used for radiologist decision support. For example, imagine you have a patient with multiple sclerosis where the radiologist needs to identify very small lesions in the brain and track their progression. Artificial intelligence algorithms will help connect those lesions and understand that the next time the patient goes into the scanner, it is the same lesion as the last time, and will automatically do a volume assessment. This gives the radiologist an accurate evaluation of the extent and progression of the disease. It also has an impact on population health more generally, allowing radiologists to make a correlation between the unique progression of a certain patient, to that of hundreds of thousands of patients that have already gone through treatment, giving them a better sense of what stage a patient is in.

AXIS: In your expert opinion, how do you foresee the global market for MRI technologies as a diagnostic tool? Where is the demand likely to be strongest?

MRI is a modality that is over thirty years old, and it’s been a “race of the technology” driven by who can achieve the highest specification in terms of the magnet, the gradient strength, the number of elements, coils and more. The biggest shift I’m seeing is that it will become an outcomes-based race instead, particularly as we transition to value-based care. MRI purchases are increasingly becoming much more strategic decisions for hospitals in terms of lost productivity, clinical decision making, and patient outcomes, rather than settling for functionality or technical claims.

Instead of focusing on the technology itself, vendors now need to demonstrate how their solutions can drive cost down, improve workflow efficiencies, or increased MRI capabilities beyond the basics. In the end, we’re selling a diagnostic productivity solution and a valuable patient experience as our customers move toward patient-centric, value-driven care.