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Vendors roll into RSNA conference riding imaging market's comeback


Short-bore MRI magnets and digital x-ray will be highlightsHas the medical imaging market put the worst behind it? That's what many industry observers may be wondering as they head for December's Radiological Society of North America meeting in

Short-bore MRI magnets and digital x-ray will be highlights

Has the medical imaging market put the worst behind it? That's what many industry observers may be wondering as they head for December's Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago. For the first time since 1992, medical imaging's showcase conference will take place against a backdrop of improving sales prospects for most imaging companies.

The medical imaging industry's purchasing rebound this year is a welcome respite from years of slumping sales caused by fear of managed care's impact on radiology. Most imaging modalities enjoyed healthy growth rates this year, with some long-suffering technologies, such as MRI and nuclear medicine, turning in double-digit percentage increases.

What's behind the rebound? For one thing, many hospitals are becoming more comfortable about their prospects under managed care, and are less worried that a major capital equipment purchase could turn out to be a financial albatross. In addition, imaging equipment that has aged over the last five years needs to be replaced, especially since vendors have advanced the state of the art in imaging technology dramatically since 1992.

Much of that technology will be on display at this year's meeting. New MRI scanners, in particular, will be prominent, with GE, Siemens, and Picker showing new short-bore magnets designed to be less claustrophobic and easier to site than older systems. In ultrasound, harmonic imaging techniques for examining difficult-to-image patients will be featured, as well as new digital ultrasound scanners introduced this year by such companies as ATL and Medison.

Another major theme at the meeting will be new digital x-ray technologies under development, particularly those using flat-panel detectors. A number of companies are angling for pieces of this market, which has the potential to be huge. X-ray makes up some 70% of all radiology data, and these data must be digitized in order for hospitals to become truly filmless. Many vendors developing flat-panel digital detectors, such as Sterling and GE, are planning for commercial product launches in 1998.

A related area, digital image management, will most likely resume the leading role it has played at the last two RSNA conferences. Although the PACS market experienced major consolidation in 1997, companies continue to see PACS as a promising niche and are unveiling new initiatives to enter the business.

New developments in PACS include the development of image distribution products based on the World Wide Web. The Web is seen as a more efficient means of transmitting images to referring physicians than dedicated teleradiology hardware and software links. Another trend to watch is the integration of PACS with other information systems in healthcare facilities, a development that is crucial in achieving the goal of an enterprise-wide image and information management system.

The following pages contain a brief overview of some of the new products and technologies to be found on the technical exhibit floor at this year's RSNA meeting. Look for a complete roundup of the exhibition in Scan Special Report, to be published in December following the conference.

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