GE upgrades CT to LightSpeed Plus

November 22, 2000

With more than 600 LightSpeed QX/i units installed, GE Medical Systems has the largest installed base of super-premium CT scanners. The company achieved this position largely because it was the first to mass-produce a quad-slice scanner. A nagging

With more than 600 LightSpeed QX/i units installed, GE Medical Systems has the largest installed base of super-premium CT scanners. The company achieved this position largely because it was the first to mass-produce a quad-slice scanner.

A nagging problem for GE has been that its sales-leading product is among the slowest quad-slice scanners on the market, with a rotational speed of 0.8 second compared with 0.5 second on flagship systems from Siemens, Marconi, and Toshiba. The newest LightSpeed, the Plus configuration, changes that, however.

With a rotational speed up to 0.5 second, this new system, which has already begun shipping, scans patients as fast as any quad-slice system on the market. Between 85 and 100 of the units will be produced by the end of the year, according to GE.

LightSpeed Plus, which lists for $1.25 million to $1.35 million, is now at the top of GE's CT product line. The firm plans to continue selling the standard LightSpeed QX/i with a 0.8-second rotation as a lower cost alternative to the Plus.

GE typically emphasizes its product continuum, which is built around upgradability. But the continuum does not apply in this case.

"We think that the productivity enhancements (in LightSpeed Plus) aren't enough to justify an upgrade at this time," said Bill Radaj, GE Americas' marketing manager for CT. "But we feel the next upgrade that we've already got in engineering is going to be very worth their while, and that will be forthcoming within two years."

This future version should take GE beyond its current maximum of four slices per rotation. Other vendors have the same goal. A prime candidate is Marconi Medical Systems, which on Nov. 15 unveiled a 16-slice scanner, although the system is not scheduled to enter production for another 18 months (see lead story). The RSNA meeting could see more such debuts.

Until other units begin shipping, however, GE may have the edge with its LightSpeed Plus, which gains much of its increased productivity from the ability to adjust rotational speed in 0.1-second increments from one-half to one second. This flexibility allows the operator to customize the scan to meet the patient's needs and optimize data acquisition. Features that improve ease of use and enhance patient compliance also boost productivity.

Variable-speed scanning on the LightSpeed Plus provides extra control of procedures, allowing the operator to adjust exam times to the patient's breath-holding ability, Radaj said. Examples of special circumstances are emphysema or fluid in the lungs.

"You can tailor (the procedure) specifically to the patient," he said.

Changing rotational speed may be most useful in imaging the heart. This flexibility is now being evaluated in clinical studies, Radaj said. Customized procedures may also be useful in conducting neurology, oncology, trauma, and angiography exams.

The operator does not have to spend a lot of time refining individual protocols. About 300 scan protocols are embedded in the system, allowing the operator to choose the one best suited to the patient and the physician's preference. The system automatically reconstructs the data, films the images, sends images over a network, and archives the results.

Other productivity enhancements found on LightSpeed Plus include the ability to tilt the gantry from inside the control room. Controls are also built into the front and back of the gantry, so the operator can start the exam at the tableside.

Also included on the Plus are patient "breathing lights," which are lighted icons mounted on the gantry that inform patients when to breathe and when to hold their breath. An IV pole and instrument tray that move with the patient table have also been installed.

These features may interest customers looking for a quad-slice scanner, but they will not be enough for those who want a "many-slice" machine. The question is when these machines will appear as real products.

The much-anticipated next version of LightSpeed, featuring more than four slices, is in development, Radaj said.

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