Punch drunk on slices

April 7, 2004

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comMarket intelligence can be an oxymoron. Sometimes there's just nothing intelligent about it. Take focus groups. Not the ones with

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

Market intelligence can be an oxymoron. Sometimes there's just nothing intelligent about it. Take focus groups. Not the ones with six consumers who gab about the gecko for Geico or the duck for AFLAC (both of which, I have to admit, I like). I'm talking about radiology focus groups. Cream of the crop folks. You know . . . luminaries.

The other day I heard a story about a company that sat down the best of the best and asked them what they wanted in CT. Faster reconstruction was the overwhelming response. It was all about workflow and dealing with the data, they said. Then came the moment of truth. They were asked what would happen if the majority of R&D dollars were spent on doing exactly that, creating better and faster ways to make sense of the data, rather than building machines with more slices.

The response: "Then you'd be in a lot of trouble."

Sound a bit two-faced? Sure, but there is something about numbers that people love. Numbers have a kind of finality, an absoluteness. People want what President Truman wanted 60 years ago: a one-armed advisor. Someone who never said, "on the other hand . . ." Numbers provide that. And the more complex the interpretation, the more people appreciate them.

It's a shame CT scanners are graded along the same lines as a Veg-O-Matic, but they are. Ask anybody who knows even a little about CTs whether a scanner with 32, 40, or 64 slices is better than one with 16. Is there any doubt about the answer?

There should be.

For the last six years, CTs sporting two, four, six, eight, 10, and 16 slices have been oriented toward radiology. The latest 32-, 40-, and 64-slice scanners are not. They can be used for trauma, pulmonary, and neuro work, but they don't offer much of an advantage in these areas over 16-slice scanners. They do, however, when it comes to coronary angiography-and this application is a long way from being ready for prime time.

With the unveiling of its LightSpeed VCT, GE is trying to change the way the imaging community looks at CTs, framing the VCT as a volumetric scanner. The primary motivation behind this effort is probably to distinguish the VCT from competing models. But that doesn't matter. The underlying idea is dead-on.

The CTs now looming on the horizon are unlike any that came before. They are game changers. They deserve a long, hard look. And that can't be done by the numbers.

-Greg Freiherr, gfreiherr@cmp.com