It's hard to believe 2011 is almost upon us. But before the ball drops on December 31, there is business to be done, and for the radiology community, this means yet another Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Scientific Assembly and National Meeting is here! The single largest medical conference in the world, the 2010 RSNA will bring over 60,000 people, more than 700 vendors, and thousands of new clinical abstracts and studies to Chicago in the week following Thanksgiving. It is the premier venue for the imaging industry and one of the most exciting times of the year for radiologists, technologists, administrators, and vendors to showcase the latest in imaging technology innovation and scientific progress. The annual RSNA meeting is a lens into the major technological and clinical innovations which will alter the way hospitals and other providers plan for new imaging technologies for many years to come.
Preview of the Top 5 Topics at the 2010 RSNA
Owing to the many uncertainties ahead in light of health care reform, new payment models, and myriad other factors impacting future regulation and profitability of imaging services, providers need to become more pragmatic in the acquisition and deployment of imaging technology. As such, ensuring due diligence to eliminate short-sighted or unnecessary technology decisions is ever more critical. As I mention in a forthcoming article to be published in the December edition of Radiology Business Journal, imaging providers must ensure new technologies align with both the organization's own strategic vision, but also the key tenets of the new health care delivery model: improving the quality and accessibility of care while reducing overall costs.
Looking ahead, here are five topics likely to be front and center at the 2010 RSNA Scientific Assembly and National Meeting
Concerted effort to better manage radiation dose - There is little refuting that the topic of radiation dose has emerged as one of major, if not primary, public health concerns impacting radiology today. While it is still somewhat debated who is ultimately responsible for managing radiation dose, both providers and vendors are combatting dose for all radiation-emitting modalities (particularly CT, fluoroscopy, and nuclear imaging) by developing strategies to minimize patient exposure. Ensuring these modalities are utilized appropriately is one of the primary reasons many are now seeking ordering decision-support systems to ensure the most appropriate imaging test is performed on the patient. However, vendors are also developing novel dose-reduction technologies, such as iterative reconstruction on CT scanners, to lower radiation dose while maintaining diagnostic-quality images. At RSNA this year, we expect to see continued development of new dose-reduction technologies, both software and hardware. For example, many vendors are now in the process of developing their second generation of iterative reconstruction software, which will build upon predecessor technology and result in improved visualization in a lower dose setting. Additionally, we expect to see iterative reconstruction-like technology deployed on other modalities, such as nuclear cameras and PET/CT systems.
Continued focus on imaging efficiency - With greater attention to lowering the cost of care, imaging providers are increasingly seeking ways to maximize the appropriate utilization of existing equipment before investments in incremental technology. Lean processes can help identify strategies to shave time off certain studies, but technology can also make a difference. Each year, and as expected for this year as well, new mechanisms to better automate scanning protocols and reduce operator-dependent steps are being introduced across all modalities, but particuarly MRI, ultrasound, and nuclear imaging. At the 2010 RSNA, there will be no shortage of new features spanning all major modalities designed to improve technologist and radiologist workflow, which can lead to greater system capacity and improved access for patients.
Expanded capabilities of less-costly modalities - In recent years, modalities which have typically taken second-place to CT, MRI, and PET/CT are now in the midst of a resurgence, with new capabilities positioning them adjacent to their advanced imaging counterparts, but at a much lower cost. In recent years, the improved visualization and applications of ultrasound has lead to much greater use across a variety of diseases, and in some cases, has rendered ultrasound as the modality of choice. Coupled with greater portability for point-of-care imaging services, ultrasound is set to make even greater strides with more research anticipated to demonstrate the roles of elastography/strain imaging, image fusion, and contrast-enhancement, effectively allowing ultrasound to better compete with more expensive modalities.
Novel technologies pacing towards clinical reality - While we may not see major clinical technology debuts for CT and MRI this year, we are anticipating this 2010 RSNA will shed light into the future roles, and likely timeframe, for two technologies poised to make a significant splash in radiology. First, with a positive FDA panel recently paving the way for possible approval of Hologic's digital breast tomosynthesis system, there is strong speculation commercial approval could be granted in early to mid-2011, and as such, after years of waiting, 2011 COULD be the year for this potentially "game-changing" technology. Though it remains to be seen what exact role tomosynthesis will have and how quickly it will be adopted, it is still a technology all administrators must be mindful of in planning for new breast imaging technologies. Additionally, hybrid MR/PET systems will be debuted from select vendors, with commercial availability expected no sooner than 2012. However, the implications of hybrid MR/PET are significant in serving as the ideal modality for assessing neurodegenerative diseases. But, whether or not the incremental clinical benefits outweigh the expected significant capital costs remains to be seen. Still, hybrid MR/PET and tomosynthesis are two technologies poised for considerable discussion at the 2010 RSNA.
Accessing images anytime, anywhere - Advancements in IT systems have allowed for physicians to access clinical information from all settings. Spurred initially by the use of laptop computers and wireless PDA devices, providers now have myriad options for accessing and sharing information, including iPads and other tablet devices. These systems are transforming the manner in which radiologists conduct business, allowing them to both interpret images at any time from any location, but also allowing them to more easily share images with tech-savvy referring physicians, and increasingly, with patients. At RSNA, apart from wireless devices, we expect to see considerable innovation in the form of IT systems allowing seamless transfer, storage, and accessibility of radiology images, including cloud-based computing, internet storage, enterprise vendor-neutral archives, and many other IT strategies designed to not just improve accessibility and continuity of care, but to also reduce redundancy and innefficiencies.