Commercialising Imaging Data: High Risk, High Reward for Imaging IT?

Publication Date: 12/02/2024

Written by

Amy Thompson

Cranfield, UK, 12th February 2024 – Momentum has been incrementally building towards initial customer education and the nascent establishment of the market for monetizing imaging data. While this is a concept that is by no means unexplored across healthcare and life sciences, proliferation has been confined primarily to patient registries, electronic health records and insurance databases so far.

For imaging however, there is a growing recognition of the opportunity and potential held with imaging data. The advent of Large Language Models (LLMs), gradual adoption on AI image analysis tools, growing focus on cloud migration (and with it, dedicated services to support migration) and the shift in R&D in pharma and clinical trials, is all fuelling exploration of the potential “goldmine” that providers and imaging technology companies may be sat on.

Big Potential, Early Hurdles

Despite the growing use of imaging RWD (iRWD) in sectors such as life sciences, the opportunity is still nascent. The nuanced specialism required to curate and standardise, de-identify and securely transfer medical imaging data is one that has restricted market potential so far. In the last 12 months, the market has observed programmes announced by vendors such as Tempus to accelerate precision oncology research, as well as vendors such as OneMednet and Enlitic announcing partnerships across the ecosystem, with imaging IT vendors, hospitals alongside life science companies, to propel iRWD. Big technology is also playing a role, either directly as a big-data play (such as NTT) or indirectly, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google’s various cloud migration service support for data migration and aggregation targeted specifically at imaging.

More significant are the strategic movements of some imaging IT vendors, such as Sectra and Symphony AI (TeraRecon’s parent company), seeking to leverage existing architecture, such as the vendor neutral archive (VNA) and adapt the protocols and licensing to support the extraction of imaging data for external use.

This not exactly new, however. Image exchange (IE) vendors such as OneMedNet, Life Image and Ambra Health (the latter two are now owned by Intelerad), are already facilitating the exchange of de-identified and encrypted patient data to life science companies, while some more generalist “health data brokers” have existed for some time.

Why Are Imaging IT Vendors Considering iRWD Now?

Before RSNA 2023, iRWD was barely a murmur amongst imaging IT vendors, so what’s changed in the market to prompt product and partnership announcements?

The strategy is timely for a start. When evaluating mature imaging IT markets, vendors will be considering how to continue achieving growth in an increasingly saturated, budget-constrained market. Inorganic growth via mergers and acquisitions, such as the recent spending spree by Intelerad, is one such approach that still holds some sway. However, the increasing cost of debt and riskier economic outlook has dampened enthusiasm for big spending, at least until the next round of AI image analysis M&A activity comes to the fore.

The exploration of iRWD, therefore, and the role an imaging IT vendors could play in a provider’s strategy, offers a potential new organic growth opportunity, offsetting slow-down anticipated as large imaging IT renewal cycles in markets such as the US come to an end and post-COVID spending dries up.

Revenue generation is not the singular variable driving aspirations however, as the market remains in a nascent phase. Instead, it is associated to the alignment of multiple aspects across the ecosystem that build a solid prospective opportunity to explore, such as:

  1. The total volume of imaging data is rapidly growing, not only in radiology but in specialities such as pathology. As imaging IT vendors transition to enterprise imaging platforms and begin to manage multi-speciality data, it places imaging IT vendors in a strong position to centralise and manage a large breadth of highly valuable imaging data.
  2. The resurgence of structured reporting is expected to accelerate this trend, as the increasing quality of reporting outputs generates stronger use cases for that data in other sectors. The adoption of structured reporting will aid in overcoming one of the biggest challenges for iRWD, with current practices requiring manual intervention to curate data to allow the value of the data to be extracted.
  3. Availability of AI technologies and automated curation, which makes large scale use much more feasible.
  4. The evolution of vendor portfolios to support the curation, de-identification, encryption, and packaging of data to fit the purpose, for example extracting cohorts for specific diseases or use cases. Often, this capability isn’t new for a vendor, significantly, it’s the public announcements informing the market of its availability.
  5. Market awareness and public announcements of collaborations formed between provider and partners, whether that’s life sciences or pharma.

Multiple Paths, Varying Risk

Despite the opportunity that is forming, it’s important for imaging IT vendors to remain realistic about the timeline of revenue and the opportunity available. Most opportunities observed by imaging IT vendors are confined to academic hospitals, with the use of anonymised data being for research purposes. Although there are wider applications, such as AI vendors and the use of anonymised patient data to train algorithms, or life sciences and pharma to drive drug development or support clinical trials. The limited use is often associated with competing priorities across the hospital for budgets, or providers not being aware of the possible opportunities.

As such, activity from imaging IT vendors is expected to be initially low on resource and investment. Leveraging and re-packaging existing architecture is a simple way to facilitate any customer requests without compromising larger technical initiatives such as cloud and enterprise imaging, which are expected to return on investment faster. Additionally, partnerships with specialist vendors will be anticipated.

Many imaging IT vendors also have a choice of strategies to pursue, be it the core management and curation of data (e.g. the technical “sandbox” to enable data curation), supporting and streamlining data curation (either as a professional service, or match-making customers to potential users of the data), or building a dedicated commercial iRWD business and building proprietary datasets as an independent commercial data brokerage. Each of these has complex strategic questions involved, but also provide various levels of risk.

Although iRWD is not yet a deciding factor for imaging IT deals, the markets increased focus on precision medicine and population health / preventive care will inevitably place the quality and availability of imaging data into question mid-term. Short-term, the question for imaging IT vendors, isn’t necessarily the influence within the provider segment, but the additional sectors the iRWD or research product could appeal to. As the life science and pharma market increasingly seeks large volume, high quality imaging data, perhaps the biggest risk of all for imaging IT vendors is the risk of doing nothing and missing out?

About The Author

Amy joined Signify Research in 2020, and is now the Research Manager for Healthcare IT, focusing on imaging and clinical IT, AI in medical imaging and teleradiology.

About the Imaging IT Team

Signify Research’s imaging IT service provides expert market intelligence and detailed insights across radiology IT, cardiology IT, and advanced visualisation IT, alongside operational workflow & business intelligence tools. Combining primary data collection and in-depth discussions with industry stakeholders, our thorough research approach yields credible quantitative and qualitative analysis, helping our customers make critical business decisions with confidence. Throughout the course of 2024, the imaging IT team will be further assessing developments in the market through its’ Imaging IT Market Intelligence Service.

About Signify Research

Signify Research provides healthtech market intelligence powered by data that you can trust. We blend insights collected from in-depth interviews with technology vendors and healthcare professionals with sales data reported to us by leading vendors to provide a complete and balanced view of the market trends. Our coverage areas are Medical Imaging, Clinical Care, Digital Health, Diagnostic and Lifesciences and Healthcare IT.

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