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GE Healthcare has recently debuted its latest interventional platform, dubbed Allia, which it hopes will allow it to capitalise on the growing demand for minimally invasive procedures.
The new suite centres around a wide-bore C-arm, and, according to GE Healthcare, has been developed in conjunction with surgeons and interventionalists to better support their needs during surgery. This, the vendor says, will improve the accessibility of the system’s user interface, as well as allowing the suite to be customised to individual surgeon’s needs. The Allia Platform is also offered with GE’s AI-based AutoRight interventional imaging chain, and GE’s AI-based parenchymography software solution.
The Signify View
Because of the high-pressure situations in which it is used, and the inseparable link between imaging and treatment, interventional imaging is unique. Despite these peculiarities that set it apart from other kinds of imaging, it does share one almost universal challenge with its imaging kin: the need for greater workflow efficiency. Improving the efficiency of surgeries and reducing operational challenges are among the guiding tenets of GE Healthcare’s Allia platform. Ergonomics is one area where GE Healthcare has worked to improve surgeries, with one of the key developments being a wide-bore C-arm that is neither floor nor ceiling-mounted, a change which is hoped to make interventional rooms more navigable for clinicians.
In a similar vein, GE Healthcare boasts that it has worked to ensure interfaces, functions and displays – the touchpoints that clinicians interact with on a daily basis, are all easily accessible, enabling surgeons to operate more efficiently. There are also more outwardly sophisticated, if more specialised developments, with GE Healthcare looking to leverage AI to assist with liver embolization procedures as well as manage the dose that patients are subjected to.
All of these tools and capabilities should, assuming they perform as well as GE Healthcare expects, be useful to surgeons. Whether that will be enough to convince providers to buy or upgrade their systems to have access to this new clinician-focused platform is another question entirely.
Users vs Buyers
As large medical imaging vendors are increasingly looking to enter into more comprehensive managed service agreements with providers, effectively becoming partners rather than simply suppliers, decisions are being made higher up in the hierarchy of a hospital network. As such, focusing so myopically on the needs of clinicians, rather than the requirements of the C-suite or finance department could be a risk. However, interventional X-ray is unusual in this regard. Its high-risk nature compared to other areas of medical imaging means that the opinions and preferences of the clinicians that will eventually be using the platform will be given more weight than might be the case for other imaging purchases.
Given this clinician focus, it makes sense for GE Healthcare to focus on, and emphasise in its marketing, the benefits that such a system could bring to surgeons, with improved workflow, enhanced clinical outcome, improved usability, and advanced image guidance all aiming to make interventional teams more efficient.
Despite these improvements being roundly appreciated, the Allia platform does represent the top end of GE Healthcare’s interventional imaging range, and as such comes with a price premium. While this may deter some potential customers, it does offer the halo effect, raising GE’s profile in a segment in which its two chief competitors, Philips and Siemens Healthineers, tend to outperform, especially in developed markets. This alone is unlikely to make a provider switch its allegiance and suddenly adopt GE Healthcares interventional imaging suite, but, by addressing one of the gaps in its portfolio, GE Healthcare is increasing the broader appeal of its overall medical imaging offering and therefore standing it in better stead to become the vendor of choice for a provider entering into a holistic imaging deal. By a similar token, offering a system that rivals the best from Siemens Healthineers and Philips also ensures that interventional won’t be a reason it misses out on such deals.
This is an important factor. GE Healthcare’s Allia platform does not stand in a field of one, with both Philips and Siemens offering products that have comparable functionality, albeit with their own unique focus, however, the timing of GE Healthcare’s launch will also benefit the vendor. During the Covid-19 pandemic countless elective procedures were canceled because of restrictions to hospitals. This has left providers facing an enormous backlog of postponed procedures which they need to clear. Given this pressure on hospitals, any interventional solution which can improve the efficiencies of interventions, reduce bottlenecks in procedures and improve the workflow efficiency of surgical departments will be warmly received.
There are, however, some differences that do set GE Healthcare’s new solution apart from its chief competitors. One such factor is the inclusion of an AI tool it calls Liver Assist, which is a 3D visualisation solution that GE Healthcare says will provide virtual parenchymography and help clinicians simulate injections dynamically and perform liver embolization procedures. Unlike other vendors which have tended to focus on hardware innovation, and supplementing that with software that is applicable across a variety of different use cases, GE has sought to combine its hardware and software capabilities into one product which addresses a growing clinical use case.
GE’s approach is, more broadly, also appropriate given the wider trends in the medical imaging markets. Unlike many of the segments in which GE plays, there is limited competition in the interventional market. In some of GE’s biggest adjacent markets, competition has increased rapidly. In general radiography, for example, explosive growth in the number of Chinese vendors targeting both the budget segments and players such as United Imaging targeting ever more premium markets, will start to weigh on GE’s results. With new competitors and lower costs eroding market share and margin. In contrast, interventional imaging is a much more sophisticated segment with much higher barriers to entry for potential competitors. What’s more, given the more critical nature of interventional imaging, providers will be less likely to take a chance on a lesser-known vendor if there is an alternative from a more established player with a robust reputation available.
Against this backdrop, focusing on maintaining and building share in the interventional space is an appropriate strategy. Growth in interventional imaging will also be international. Both demographic factors such as aging populations, higher rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke and other conditions rising, along with the increasing availability of medical imaging in developing markets allowing conditions requiring surgical interventions to be diagnosed, the need for interventional imaging platforms will grow in lockstep.
Ultimately, GE Healthcare’s release of its Allia platform will not dramatically change the complexion of the interventional X-ray market. Providers will not rush to replace their existing systems to take advantage of GE Healthcare’s new workflow improvements or its AI capabilities, and it may not, in the short term, necessarily push providers toward a large comprehensive contract with GE Healthcare. However, some clinicians will notice the release, they will visit GE’s booth at RSNA and assess the consideration that they, and their needs have been given in the update, and, perhaps will start to notice some shortcomings in their own systems. Then, when the time comes, these clinicians tasked with performing some of the most direct tasks in medicine could advocate for a GE system in future. Such patterns may not allow GE Healthcare to overthrow Philips and Siemens, and over time those vendors will also release new systems that will once again swing the balance. But, by focusing both hardware and software innovation on the platform’s users, GE Healthcare may well have boosted its chances in a difficult, yet rewarding, segment.
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This Insight is part of your subscription to Signify Premium Insights – Medical Imaging. This content is only available to individuals with an active account for this paid-for service and is the copyright of Signify Research. Content cannot be shared or distributed to non-subscribers or other third parties without express written consent from Signify Research. To view other recent Premium Insights that are part of the service please click here