Kodak highlights transition to digital future at the 2004 ECR

March 24, 2004

Digital mammography unit shoots for year's end Eastman Kodak's Health Imaging Group is walking a tightrope: It needs to respond to an increasingly digital marketplace while still satisfying customers wedded to film. Its high-wire

Digital mammography unit shoots for year's end

Eastman Kodak's Health Imaging Group is walking a tightrope: It needs to respond to an increasingly digital marketplace while still satisfying customers wedded to film. Its high-wire act, highlighted at the European Congress of Radiology held March 5 to 9 in Vienna, has meant it must continue developing products that serve both digital and analog needs.

At this year's ECR, Kodak entered the computer-aided detection business with a work-in-progress CAD package designed for mammography. The software, whose development was made possible by the acquisition of MiraMedica in September 2003, will be incorporated initially into a stand-alone screen-film digitizer.

The rollout of a fully digital CAD product is planned once Kodak has its own full-field diagnostic mammography (FFDM) system. This could happen by the end of this year, according to Dan Kerpelman, president of Kodak's Health Imaging Group and senior vice president of Eastman Kodak.

The company is also developing a dedicated mammography mini-PACS. Shown as a work-in-progress at the ECR, the system is being designed as an efficient way to manage and store FFDM images.

Kodak also announced at the congress an upgrade of its DryView 8900 laser imaging system to support the printing of high-resolution (650 dpi) digital mammography images. The software upgrade, shown as a work-in-progress at the 2003 RSNA meeting, has since received 510(k) clearance from the FDA and the CE mark from European regulators. It will be available worldwide in the second quarter of 2004 on new 8900 units and as a retrofit to existing 8900 laser imagers.

While developing this digital technology, the company remains active in film. It released six months ago a screen-film system called MIN R-EV, designed as a step-up from its popular MIN R-2000.

"We continue to selectively invest in film products, because there are certain areas of the film market that are still growing, even though the general aggregate is in decline. Mammography is one of those sectors," Kerpelman said. "As more national healthcare systems move toward population-based breast screening, for instance those in France and Germany, film consumption continues to grow."

A sizable chunk of the mammography market will eventually turn digital, according to Kerpelman. The timing of this transition will depend more on workflow issues than the quality of digital mammography hardware.

"Mammography is such a hard read," he said. "Reading the high-quality images on a monitor is very different from reading them on a light box. Ultimately, it will be better because you can do windowing, leveling, and magnification, but you have to get the body of radiologists who report mammograms to become as experienced in a digital read as they are with film."

Until now, much of Kodak's transition to digital has been characterized by heavy investments in computed radiography (CR), a "bridging" technology between the analog and digital worlds that Kodak continues to emphasize. The high-throughput DirectView CR 950, first introduced as a work-in-progress at last year's ECR, has become established as a relatively successful technology, Kerpelman said. The company's tabletop DirectView CR 50, also unveiled in 2003, is now shipping globally.

"Many x-ray departments are now putting in a PACS," he said. "This is pulling through a lot of CR business."