GE launches first commercial flat-panel cardiac cath system

March 15, 2000

GE Medical Systems unveiled the industry’s first flat-panel cardiology product Feb. 29 in a New York City press event designed to showcase the digital sensor technology—as well as the enormous promotional power of GE.Innova 2000, which received

GE Medical Systems unveiled the industry’s first flat-panel cardiology product Feb. 29 in a New York City press event designed to showcase the digital sensor technology—as well as the enormous promotional power of GE.

Innova 2000, which received FDA clearance just days before the event, is built around a 20 x 20 cm amorphous silicon plate capable of generating 30 frames per second. A key advantage of the system is its extended dynamic range, described by GE as being more than 10 times greater than conventional products. The practical result is resolution that allows physicians to see exceptional detail.

Dr. David Holmes Jr. described the ability to visualize stents and their effect on blood vessels with a degree of clarity that in some instances can change patient outcomes. Holmes, who directs the Adult Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, described a case in which the detail available on Innova digital images demonstrated that a stent had been improperly placed, allowing Holmes and his Mayo colleagues to immediately remedy the problem.

“This made an enormous difference for that patient,” Holmes said. “We are seeing things we have never seen before, and only by seeing the fine details can we see what has to be done.”

Digital images can be fine-tuned in real-time to improve tissue differentiation and contrast. They can also be processed to fit the presentation desired by individual physicians. Image enhancement and the dynamic range of the system are especially important when examining larger patients, Holmes said.

“Ideally, the adult male is 170 pounds. Much larger than that and it becomes difficult to visualize fine structure in the heart with conventional systems,” said Holmes, noting that the dynamic range of Innova 2000 can be adjusted to compensate for x-ray attenuation through body tissue.

Digital technology included in the new GE product offers the additional benefit of allowing healthcare staff to easily include image and patient data in DICOM-compliant cardiology and hospital information systems. These data may then be used to assess patient outcome.

Innova was clearly the most impressive technology featured at the New York event, but it did not receive top billing. The cardiac catheterization system played second fiddle to Milwaukee, WI-based GE Medical Systems’ Senographe 2000D, even though the full-field digital mammography system was officially launched three months earlier at the Radiological Society of North America meeting. Attendees were given literature about the “X-ray revolution in breastcare and cardiac care,” as GE paraded dignitaries and women’s health experts across the stage.

The connection between the two systems is the flat-panel technology, specifically amorphous silicon sensors developed and being manufactured at GE’s Corporate R&D Center in Schenectady, NY. The development effort has so far cost GE more than $150 million.

But GE was clearly playing to a larger audience than the media, staging the event more to impress than to disseminate breaking news. On display as much as the technology was the company and its clout. Few vendors can hold a press conference in the studio of a major television network, but that is what GE did. For the unveiling of Innova 2000 the company chose the soundstage for Saturday Night Live at the NBC studios (NBC is owned by GE) in Rockefeller Plaza.

Leading off the program was GE’s chairman and CEO, Jack Welch Jr., who, moments before the conference, was featured live two floors above on CNBC. Welch’s discussion of a collaboration between GE Aircraft Engines and Boeing was watched on 10-foot television screens hung in front of those attending the GEMS event. Making the transition to that podium, Welch talked about how Six Sigma, the quality-control program instituted years ago throughout the company, has changed the shape of GE’s products.

“In our Six Sigma developments, we have done remarkable things to help in the treatment of two of the worst killers in our country, cardiac disease and breast cancer,” Welch said.

Ironically, for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding their introduction, GE expects to sell relatively few of either the Innova 2000 or Senographe 2000D. Jeffrey R. Immelt, president and CEO of GE Medical Systems, expects that the company will sell only about 25 Innova systems this year, even though GE will reach full production capability in the second half of the year. That represents less than 10% of total unit sales per year to a global installed base of more than 3000 cardiac cath units.

Expectations for Senographe sales are not much better. Considering a worldwide installed base of about 26,000 mammography units, GE estimates that global sales next year of the full-field digital unit will reach only about 200.

One reason for low sales expectations is the cost of these units. Innova 2000 will cost as much as $1.3 million, about 30% more than cardiac cath suites that use film. Fully outfitted with a workstation, Senographe 2000D will cost between $400,000 and $500,000, about five times the cost of high-quality film-based systems now on the market.

These two new products, however, are only cogs in the much larger wheel that is GE Medical Systems. Immelt noted that the company’s digital products reflect a long-term commitment to disease management and improved efficiency in patient care.

“Our products are built for connectivity,” he said. “We are matching imaging with information.”