HealthCare Business News spoke to Jim Burns, Carestream's senior director of R&D for imaging systems, about the factors driving increased portability in imaging technology, the challenges of bringing novel solutions to the health care market and the ways that imaging capabilities are likely to expand beyond the radiology department in years to come.
With over 30 years in the industry, Burns can remember when a “portable ultrasound” referred to something as big as a full-size refrigerator on wheels. He has witnessed the evolution of portability firsthand and has a pretty good sense of how things will progress from here.
From his perspective, wireless digital detectors have had the single biggest impact on bringing enhanced X-ray imaging capabilities to the ER, OR and ICU.
“With DR I know instantly that I have a bad image so I can retake it, plus I don’t need to return to the department to upload it to PACS,” he says.
This is in stark contrast to the old days when a film or CR cassette had to be returned to the department for processing, at which point an inadequate image might be discovered and the process repeated.
Not surprisingly, miniaturization has also been a primary driver of advancements in portability.
“If you go into the ICU and take a look at a patient and all the devices that are hooked up to them, how are you going to get an imaging system in there to get that daily chest X-ray?”
When innovations in portability take place it’s because there is a need that couldn’t be satisfied with technology that already existed, but it isn’t always easy to get hospitals on board with solutions they’re unfamiliar with.
“You need to have show sites and demonstrate a lot of clinical evidence of what a new system is capable of doing, so it’s a little harder than just coming out with a new X-ray room, for example,” says Burns.
Bringing imaging technology to the places where it is needed most is a great asset to hospital workflow, but Burns says that’s really only one part of the story. For the patients being treated, particularly in the ICU, these tools can mean shorter stays, faster diagnosis by clinicians and better survival rates.
One of the biggest challenges with imaging patients in the ICU is that many of them are too sick to be transported to the radiology department, so the desire to image these individuals at the bedside in new and better ways is likely to continue to drive innovation over the next several years.
What can we expect?
He foresees a future where volumetric/3-D imaging plays a key role in bedside X-ray, and cites pneumothorax as a prime example where these capabilities would yield dramatic improvements.
“It can be difficult to diagnose this condition with a 2-D chest X-ray, so there’s an unmet need for getting a volumetric look at the lungs or abdomen without the risks of transporting the patient for a CT,” says Burns.
Thanks to the increasing speed of detectors and their wireless capabilities, real-time imaging is another benefit that is not far off on the horizon and, according to Burns, newborns in the neonatal unit are among the patients most likely to benefit from it.
“Since an increasing number of patients are bariatric, developing better ultrasound transducers and software that provide improved penetration can improve outcomes,” says Burns.