MRI societies anticipate merger

June 2, 1993

Wedding bells may soon ring in the MRI profession. Plans for amerger of the discipline's two major medical societies have reachedan advanced stage. While no equipment vendor will bring a shotgunto the wedding, they will bless a union that should simplify

Wedding bells may soon ring in the MRI profession. Plans for amerger of the discipline's two major medical societies have reachedan advanced stage. While no equipment vendor will bring a shotgunto the wedding, they will bless a union that should simplify marketingand reduce exhibition costs.

The Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and the Societyfor Magnetic Resonance Imaging have been negotiating for the pastyear a plan that would create one association, the Society ofMagnetic Resonance. The proposed move would be a boon for MRImanufacturers, enabling them to cut in half the costs of exhibitingat the societies' annual conferences.

Discussions of the merger began early last year. A joint committeeof leading radiologists was formed to iron out the details. Thecommittee developed a merger plan that was overwhelmingly approvedby the boards of the societies at the SMRI meeting in San Franciscoin March. The plan will be voted on by members of both societiesat the upcoming SMRM meeting in New York in August.

If the plan is approved, the effective date of the merger willbe Jan. 1, 1994. The SMRM and SMRI would continue to hold separateconferences until 1996 to honor commitments made for those meetings.

Talk of a proposed merger has made the rounds of both conferencesfor some time. A merger has seemed more likely as the contentof each society's annual meeting has become similar enough tomake such a move natural.

"It was becoming clear that the societies were doing moreand more of the same sorts of things, and it made sense to tryto join forces," said Jane E. Tiemann, SMRM executive director."We have two societies that are growing closer in their purposesand activities."

The SMRM was formed in 1981 and had a reputation early on asmaintaining a more scientific focus, with particular emphasison MR spectroscopy. The SMRI, on the other hand, was known primarilyas an imaging society, weighted toward clinicians.

But since those early years, substantial cross-pollinationbetween societies has occurred, a trend indicative of the growingmaturation of MRI. Clinicians now understand the medical potentialof spectroscopy, while spectroscopists realize that in order forthe technique to be accepted it must be used clinically, accordingto Dr. William G. Bradley, director of MRI at Long Beach MemorialMedical Center in Long Beach, CA. Bradley served on the jointcommittee that worked out the details of the merger.

"The distinctions have faded, and the question has tobe asked, do we need two meetings three months apart?" Bradleysaid.

Major MRI vendors may have asked themselves the same question.Cutting the number of annual meetings a year will only help MRIvendors already trying to slash costs. Dealing with a merged societywill also accrue benefits that go beyond the costs of rentingand staffing booth space, according to Heinrich von Wulfen, presidentof MRI at Siemens Medical Systems.

"The cost savings on the exhibition are small in comparisonto other resources we spend preparing for it," von Wulfensaid. "The main issue is that we will free up resources todo what we do best, and that is develop products."

Marcelo Lima, marketing manager for the NMR division of PickerInternational, concurs.

"A merger will concentrate in one place the opportunityto showcase our products," Lima said. "I think it isa great thing."

Industry scuttlebutt portrayed manufacturers as trying to pressurethe societies to merge. At a meeting of the SMRI corporate councillast year, the major vendors banded together and agreed to attendonly one of the meetings each year on an alternating basis tospeed up the merger process. The vendors decided not to make thetrip to New York for this year's SMRM conference.

Those plans apparently fizzled, as all the major vendors willat least have booth space at the SMRM meeting, according to anSMRM representative, who acknowledged that there had been discussionsof a vendor boycott.

Siemens, however, will follow through on part of the plan.The company has rented booth space at the SMRM meeting but willnot send any staff to the conference. The money that would havebeen spent to staff the booth will instead be donated to the SMRM,according to the company.

"Siemens will not (be at the meeting)," von Wulfensaid. "That is an agreement we had with other major vendors."

Despite rumors about the role of industry pressure in spurringthe merger, both vendors and clinicians said the impetus to mergewas solely that of the societies.

"While they have expressed their opinions, (the mergerprocess) was done completely independently of vendors," Tiemannsaid. "The timetable was set by the societies."