InfiMed plans effort to convert radiographic rooms to digital imaging

Filmless radiography will combine new and retrofit salesOnce hospital radiographic rooms begin converting to digital imaging technology on a large scale, the much-heralded filmless radiology revolution will have finally passed its

Filmless radiography will combine new and retrofit sales

Once hospital radiographic rooms begin converting to digital imaging technology on a large scale, the much-heralded filmless radiology revolution will have finally passed its early-adopter/luminary stage. Conversion from film-based to digital x-ray will likely consist of new sales as well as upgrades and retrofits of existing radiographic rooms.

There are opportunities for business in both new and retrofit digital x-ray supply. Given the large number of radiographic rooms installed worldwide—about 150,000—and the fact that these rooms remain film-based for the most part, the market potential for digital conversion is substantial, according to Tim Stevener, radiology global market manager for InfiMed of Liverpool, NY.

InfiMed is preparing a 510(k) submission to the Food and Drug Administration for a flat-panel digital detector developed as part of what InfiMed calls its Stingray project. The company hopes to be on the market with a product by August or September, Stevener said. This technology will be used both as a stand-alone retrofit to analog radiographic rooms and as an additional capability for InfiMed’s GoldOne digital systems for radiographic/fluoroscopic (R/F) rooms. InfiMed debuted Stingray at last year’s RSNA meeting (SCAN Special Report January 1999).

After evaluating several flat-panel digital radiographic sensors, InfiMed chose to use that of Thomson Electronics. This amorphous silicon flat-panel technology was developed through the Trixell consortium, which includes Thomson, Siemens, and Philips. The latter two medical imaging vendors are using the same panel technology in their development of new digital radiographic systems. InfiMed’s offering will be somewhat different, however, because the company supplies its own image processing technology to correct and enhance the image information coming from the panel. It has also developed its own PC-based user interface, Stevener said.

InfiMed also expects to provide its digital radiographic technology to other companies on an OEM-supply basis, he said. It is currently in discussions with OEM vendors, most of which have existing relationships with other InfiMed products. The InfiMed technology is being developed so that it can be adapted to other types of flat-panel sensors if they are used by an OEM partner.

Lower cost will be a main sales argument for the retrofit of radiographic rooms, Stevener said. InfiMed expects that its retrofit will sell for about twice the price of film-based radiographic rooms, which sell in the range of $50,000 to $80,000. The retrofit will be about half the cost of a completely new digital radiographic room.

InfiMed has been active since 1986 in converting film-based R/F rooms to the use of digital-spot filming. The company provides its own retrofit technology directly to hospitals and also manufactures new digital imaging equipment for OEM suppliers. R/F is the biggest market for InfiMed’s digital fluoroscopy systems, according to Stevener. There are about 50,000 R/F rooms worldwide, while cardiac catheterization rooms number under 10,000 and digital subtraction angiography under 4000, he said.

InfiMed supplies digital imaging systems for all three markets, as well as for dental and radiation therapy guidance applications, Stevener said. Earlier this year, however, the company sold its therapy imaging business to its European distributor, preferring to concentrate on the radiology, cardiology, and dental markets. InfiMed has about 3000 systems installed worldwide.

The business of converting R/F to digital-spot fluoroscopy has considerable steam left in it, despite its long history, he said.

“Between 60% and 70% of R/F rooms in the marketplace remain nondigital rooms,” Stevener said. “There is still a lot of room for bringing people up to today’s technology with digital (spot filming). Hospitals are keeping R/F rooms for 18 or 20 years.”

InfiMed is counting on this conservative bent of hospitals to carry through to the larger radiographic market. Past experience with hospital conversions to digital imaging technology indicates that many are not eager to rid themselves of existing radiographic rooms, he said. They often prefer to convert existing rooms.

“We sell about 400 to 500 digital-spot filming systems (a year) today. If all elements are equivalent and the (radiographic) marketplace is three times the size (of the R/F market), it is entirely conceivable that we could sell 1000 digital retrofits to radiographic users,” Stevener said.

While some new-system vendors argue that there are technical difficulties with retrofits to radiographic rooms, InfiMed believes it has the expertise in digital conversions to overcome any such hurdles.

“When we started doing retrofits of fluoroscopic systems over 10 years ago, people said you couldn’t do retrofits,” he said. “With experience, problems are much easier to solve.”