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Hewlett-Packard retools with new echocardiography systems


HP designs scanners with payors in mindSummer is here, and competition in the echocardiography segmentis heating up along with the weather. Market leader Hewlett-Packardchallenged its rivals by unveiling two new scanners, HP Sonos2500 and HP

HP designs scanners with payors in mind

Summer is here, and competition in the echocardiography segmentis heating up along with the weather. Market leader Hewlett-Packardchallenged its rivals by unveiling two new scanners, HP Sonos2500 and HP Sonos 2000, at the American Society of Echocardiographymeeting in San Francisco. The vendor launched the systems internationallythis month but still awaits Food and Drug Administration marketclearance in the U.S.

While the premium Sonos 2500 offers technological improvementsover HP's previous high-end 1500 scanner, the company will raisethe list price only marginally. HP's new line is positioned toappeal to traditional cardiologist and sonographer users, as wellas health-care payors, an increasingly important group in thescanner purchasing process, said Cynthia P. Danaher, general managerof HP's imaging systems business unit.

"We spent a good deal of time (discussing technology)with our existing customers as well as our new customer, the payor,"she told SCAN. "Payors don't talk about things like B-modeand color. They want value of diagnosis. They are paying for the(outcome) of our product."

Health-care payors define the value of cardiac ultrasound equipmentin terms of diagnostic accuracy, but also important are cost andtime of diagnosis and what technology will be replaced, she said.

The vendor did not skimp on technological advances when designingthe new scanners, however. HP will buff its reputation for near-fieldimaging with implementation of dynamic elevation beamforming onthe 2500, Danaher said.

Prior-generation transducer technology allowed for image controlat particular frequencies in the axial and lateral planes butnot in the elevation plane (or distance from the transducer).DEB provides a more uniformly focused ultrasound beam and uniformimage quality in a single image, she said. Parallel processingallows for the combination of near- and far-field focus.

"It (DEB) allows you to optimize for the near field andfor the far field, so you have a continually strong image. Thisis an industry first," she said.

HP has been better known for its far-field rather than near-fieldecho image quality.

The image improvements of DEB, in turn, help to make HP's AcousticQuantification feature easier to use clinically, Danaher said.The AQ feature, introduced three years ago with HP's launch ofthe 1500, helps distinguish blood from mycocardium by analysisof differences in the returning sound waves. The border betweenblood and heart tissue is identified, allowing for computationof chamber area and ejection fractions.

"Clinical acceptance of AQ has been high, although customerstold us that we need to make it easier to use," she said.

Improved image quality and ease of AQ implementation will helpthe technique complete its transition from research to routineclinical use, much as developments in early Doppler technologyimproved the practical utility of that echo feature. As with DEB,AQ will be available on the 2500 but not the 2000.

Color-flow Doppler image clarity has been improved in the newscanner architecture for both systems with the introduction ofextended definition color flow, she said. This technique usesfour times oversampling of the received beam and improves dynamicrange from eight bits to 10.

The Sonos 1500 becomes obsolete with the introduction of the2500, while a new Sonos 1000 Enhanced scanner now sells at a lowerprice point. This is proving particularly popular in internationalmarkets, Danaher said.

The 1000 Enhanced will list for about $115,000, or 25% lessthan the previous 1000 model, she said. Existing 1000 and 1500scanners can be upgraded to the new architecture with significanthardware and software changes.

Despite its additional features, Sonos 2500 lists for $200,000,or about 3% more than the 1500. Sonos 2000 has a list price of$155,000, which is only a 1% increase over the previous 1000,she said.

Continued price pressures have been evident in the last severalyears in echocardiography as in other ultrasound market segments.When Sonos 1500 was introduced in 1991, the unit listed for $200,000,compared to about $170,000 for the 1000 (SCAN 7/31/91).

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