Playing the percentages

August 20, 2003

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comThere's an old rule in engineering that about 20% of a product's features do 80% of the work. If you don't think that applies to

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

There's an old rule in engineering that about 20% of a product's features do 80% of the work. If you don't think that applies to radiology, take a look at how MR scanners are used. The bulk of procedures involve the head and spine, which puts MR just about where it was turfwise when it began 20 years ago.

This is probably going to change with opportunities in angiography, orthopedics, and maybe even cardiology, but it won't change dramatically. Head and spine imaging is going to be the core capability of MR for a very long time-not because MR can't do other things, but because it does these so well.

And this may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There's a good chance equipment is not being used the way manufacturers would like, and certainly not to its potential. I see this every day in the office equipment I use. My phone has 16 speed-dial buttons. I've programmed three. I wonder how many technologists use all the software programming options they have on their consoles.

Manufacturers are getting the idea about optimizing their machines, but their accomplishments are bred in an engineering lab. I have yet to hear of a company that actually examines how its equipment is used in everyday practice. I'm not talking about luminary sites, where researchers are exploring new applications and company engineers are helping them. I mean hospitals and imaging centers representative of the broader market for imaging equipment.

Forget about focus groups and expert consultants. I think it would be interesting to actually go onsite and see what features are used the most, what shortcuts staff come up, and how long it takes a newbie to yell for help.

This information could lead to a new generation of upgrades. Rather than fixing glitches or extending capabilities, upgrades might make equipment work the way people use it. This kind of market intelligence could even change the way product families are constructed. Companies today offer products with different features, most of which are driven by engineering breakpoints tied to prices that cover a range of budgets.

Rather than having technology and economics drive the design of systems, I wonder what scanners would look like if their designs were driven by how customers use them. I'll bet the same price points could be reached, thanks to the 80/20 rule, and-if actual use determined design-I bet those scanners might be more efficient than the ones we have now.