Is it just me, or what?

December 20, 2004

I first heard the phrase as a child. New and improved. Back then, it was what America was all about. We made things better. It was the natural course of events, a kind of technological Darwinism, whereby the old were left in the dust.

I first heard the phrase as a child: "New and improved." Back then, it was what America was all about. We made things better. It was the natural course of events, a kind of technological Darwinism, whereby the old were left in the dust.

But over the years I came to realize that what the makers of those new and improved products were really saying is that they had been selling us junk. And to make matters worse, we were buying it. But now they'd fixed it. And it was 30% better. So now we can have confidence in their product. Too bad we had to buy that old junk. But at the time, they didn't have anything better. C'est la vie.

Then a few years later, their products were new and improved again, and the cycle was repeated. I started to wonder, what are they not telling us about the products we're now buying?

So it is in imaging. At this last RSNA meeting, just about everything on the exhibit floor was new and improved. Not a single person told me they had the same junk as last year. And I talked to a lot of people. Everybody's product was faster. Quieter. Cheaper. More comfortable. Delivered better DQE. If there was any doubt, all I had to do was look at the version number. Last year was, say, 2.5. Now it's 2.6. Case closed.

One company really threw me for a loop. It renamed all its products. Another renamed itself. If that isn't new, I don't know what is.

Some companies borrowed products from other companies and built them into their own. That happened a lot in PACS. I thought it was a good idea. If you don't have something, why build it yourself? Get it from someone else. But if you are going to build it yourself, and you're going to offer somebody else's first, be sure to say it's "integrated." That way customers won't be tempted to buy best-of-breed components and take the chance of getting a bunch of systems that don't work well together. Integrated systems go through beta testing.

Beta testing can take a while so, you know, you have to be patient. It was that way with a lot of the new systems on the floor - the high-field open MR scanner, for example. It will be generally available late next year. It was first shown as a work-in-progress at the 1999 RSNA meeting.

You know what RSNA stands for? Real Systems Not Available. It's an old joke, but I never get tired of it.

CT was an eye opener this year. I learned that all 64-slice scanners are not created equal. I sort of expected that, but I wasn't sure how unequal they were until some executives took me aside to explain it. A lot of what they told me was off the record. I should look into it on my own, they said, but I really shouldn't let "blankety blank blank blankety" get away with what they were saying.

(Just a quick note to those of you trying to match the blankety blanks to the words in an actual company's name: Stop. I changed the number of blanketies.)

And to the executive who said the magazine I write for had been mean to him over the years, and because of that he wasn't going to talk to me: I have taken the picture of you and me off my wall.

It seems this meeting gets weirder every year. Maybe it's me. Or maybe it's just that everything is so new and improved.