Significant changes are emerging in the medical imaging industry with innovations that move away from expensive, large, stationary, and complex systems to smaller, easier to use, and more accessible devices. Technological advances mean imaging capabilities will no longer be confined just to large hospitals and institutions. Rather, they will begin showing up increasingly in small hospitals, physicians’ offices, and on wheels outside medical settings.
Newer imaging technologies focus on combining ease-of-use with higher levels of accuracy, allowing information to be accessed efficiently, while providing higher throughput. These new solutions are cost effective and can be used in a variety of clinical applications.
Of the systems entering the market, many offer systems that do not require specialized training. For example, GE Healthcare’s CardIQ Function Xpress contains a fully integrated post-processing and analysis tool tailored specifically for cardiac use. Boston Scientific received 510K approval for its iLAB Ultrasound Imaging System, which has an easy-to-upgrade platform that promotes the advancement of innovative technologies.
Facilitating Information Sharing
Digital imaging has made it possible to share information with multiple team members via wireless communication. The iMRIsneuro, owned by the University of Virginia Health System, is a multifunctional, moveable, high-field MRI that allows a medical team to scan, review, and share information during a surgical procedure.
Digital imaging also allows for the integration of intraoperative procedures with imaging guided surgery to provide real-time data. This reduces surgical time, increases efficiency, and helps medical facilities recover their investments more quickly because they can schedule more patient scans per day.
Portability also is emerging as a standard component of medical imaging systems made with lighter materials to allow for transport to multiple sites. The majority of new FDA 510K approvals for imaging systems feature designs that allow for portability. For example, Digirad Corporation’s XPO System can be configured or fixed for mobile operation and services many different sites. Mobile imaging services currently comprise 70 percent of Digirad’s annual revenue.
Other companies investing in the development of mobile imaging technologies include Toshiba, GE Healthcare, Siemens, and Teratech. There is a trend emerging in Europe in which systems are using higher slice configurations. Both Toshiba and Philips market systems that use 256-slice configurations in cardiology imaging that result in a 256 mm coverage area. A 256-slice CT, for example, can perform a full bank of five key diagnostic tests on the heart or tests in the brain thereby exposing the patient to far less radiation. This equates to as little as one-eighth to one-third of the dose required in testing with the 64-slice scanner.
Medical imaging systems will continue to get smaller and more mobile, and in the foreseeable future, hand-held imaging devices are likely to become more prominent. Mobile imaging systems also will give first responders, the military, and others access to the technology, especially in remote areas where large, stationary devices are impractical. They will greatly improve survival rates in circumstances such as a stroke, when there is a small window in which to diagnose and treat a patient.
In fact, the medical imaging industry already is manufacturing smaller, portable units that are user friendly and provide highly accurate diagnosis with little patient discomfort. The newer designs are more cost effective by allowing for quicker more accurate diagnosis and allow for use over a variety of applications.
Future innovations will see the technology get increasingly smaller as hand-held devices used for screening and diagnosis become more prevalent. These small imaging devices will allow access to more people no matter where they are which will allow the medical community to quickly diagnose and treat a problem.
The University of California, Berkeley, is currently working on cell phone that could one day be used to make medical imaging accessible to billions of people around the world. The phone would be hooked up to the data acquisition device then transmit the raw data to a central server where the information would be used to create an image. The server would then relay the image back to the cell phone, where it can be viewed on the cell phone’s screen. This will significantly lower the cost of medical imaging because the apparatus is at the patient site and the technology greatly simplified. There is no need for personnel highly trained in imaging processing.
Hybrid Imaging Combines Methods
The use of hybrid imaging methods over single-method scan also will increase steadily over time, especially in the field of oncology. Image fusion in particular is increasingly useful in merging two or more different images to create one “fused” image. Studies have found that hybrid systems were able to detect the presence of cancer better than single systems allowing for early treatment.
Philips currently markets the Precedence SPECT/CT system, a hybrid system that allows physicians to perform SPECT and CT scans simultaneously. It then fuses images from the two scans, providing physicians with crucial information about metabolism and structure. Philips also developed Syntegra, a multi-modality software that automatically superimposes physiologic data (such as PET) with anatomic data (CT or MR). The real-time data aids in the identification of tumors, shortens the radiation therapy planning cycles, and results in more confident diagnoses.
The use of hybrid technology will continue to emerge as the combination of imaging methods proves to be more effective in diagnosing problems over singular imaging methods. Fusion of multiple image data from multiple systems will be used to recreate accurate anatomical structures. With the market forecast to increase by 6 percent annually through 2010, innovative designs will continue to keep competitors on their toes.