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  • Medical imaging market: moving up

Feb 2009
Caren B. Les,

MALVERN, Pa. – The worldwide 3-D medical imaging market is projected to be worth $3.9 billion by 2012, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts Inc. of San Jose, Calif. Europe represents the largest market, with sales estimated at $935 million in 2008, and the US, which represents the single largest market, held an estimated 34.6 percent share in 2008. Since 2000, the Asia-Pacific region, the fastest-growing segment, has experienced a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent, which is expected to continue through 2010.

Medical imaging in clinical settings is enhanced by software such as syngo Suite from Siemens Healthcare, which provides users with tool kits for specific tasks ranging from work flow through clinical imaging to knowledge applications. Photo courtesy of Siemens Medical Solutions USA Inc.

The report states that MRI and CT represent the largest product segment and that their combined sales are projected to top $2.7 billion by 2012. It forecasts that these imaging modalities, along with ultrasound, are expected to see upwardly mobile compound annual growth rates over the next five years. Technological developments in the areas of 3-D medical imaging, visualization techniques and related procedures are among the factors driving the market growth.

Medical imaging has grown to encompass not only the traditional radiological images but also “visible light images,” such as retinal images in ophthalmology, endoscopic images in gastroenterology, computer-aided detection in breast imaging and microscopic specimens in pathology, according to Henri “Rik” Primo, director of marketing and strategic relationships for the Image and Knowledge Management Div. of the Customer Solutions Group of Siemens Healthcare, part of Siemens Medical Solutions USA Inc., based in Malvern, Pa.

Primo said that medical imaging has become the gateway through which many patients enter the health care system, adding that the aging of the very large baby boomer generation and the longer life spans projected for this group will be significant drivers in the growth of the industry.

Technological progress

When asked what technological advances within the medical imaging market will have a significant impact in the next few years, Primo said that new smart algorithms and improved graphic processing capabilities of personal computers have enabled 3-D medical imaging to enter the mainstream, adding that interactive exploration of 3-D medical data sets previously required advanced high-performance workstations.

Four-dimensional medical imaging is another tool that increasingly is being used in hospitals, according to Primo. Acquisition in 4-D can visualize motion within the human body, such as the beating heart. Four-dimensional imaging can visualize the movement and location of a tumor as it is affected by the patient’s breathing to provide more precise targeted delivery of radiation, while reducing harmful exposure to nearby tissue and organs.

Virtual microscopy, particularly confocal scanning microscopy for performing biopsies, represents another rising technology, Primo said. The computer-aided technique derives enormous amounts of data from one specimen slide, while providing many different views of the specimen in multiple focal planes simultaneously. The medical staff involved in the patient’s care can access the resulting imagery via network-connected personal computers.

The use of 3-D intravascular ultrasound, which involves the introduction of a catheter with a tip-mounted transducer into patients’ arteries, is another area where we will see growth, Primo said. Particularly useful in visualizing the coronary arteries, the method is valuable in imaging plaque morphology, vessel wall structure, and information on the vessel and luminal area, which can be difficult to assess with classic coronary angiography – and therefore 3-D intravascular ultrasound may lead to better patient treatment. The high cost of the equipment (intravascular ultrasound console and disposable catheters) is interfering with more widespread use of the technology, Primo explained.

Picture archiving communication systems

He said that the technical ability to store visible light images in the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) 3.0 format will result in the steady expansion of picture archiving communication systems (PACS), which are used by hospital and clinical personnel to access patient images on their computer workstations. There is also a movement away from the traditional UNIX computer systems in clinical settings, as mainstream personal computer systems continue to offer increasingly better performance and image storage capabilities.

Payment and protocols

Among the challenges to be faced in the medical imaging industry are how to pay for all the procedures and how to keep their costs under control, Primo said. He added that many groups in the medical community are developing protocols and recommendations to ensure that patients receive the right type of imaging at the right time, with the best indicated modality for a specific disease and with the best outcomes, in the most cost-effective way.

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