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There were several reasons why RSNA 2022 could have been a disappointment on the modality front. Many vendors, for instance, had priorities beyond an annual conference, including ongoing component shortages, logistics challenges, and disruption in emerging markets. Beyond that several vendors had more specific distractions, with GE HealthCare preparing to list publicly in January and Philips welcoming a new CEO two of the more high-profile examples.
Providers too could have justifiably been reluctant to expend too much effort on RSNA. While new technology can improve productivity at hospitals, providers are presently facing a litany of challenges, including staff shortages, clinician burnout, a backlog of procedures delayed by Covid-19 countermeasures and precarious budgets thanks to the ongoing economic volatility.
The Signify View
Despite these omens, RSNA proved to be a positive show, with many vendors pleased by attendees’ receptiveness.
This receptiveness stems from vendors’ willingness to address the aforementioned challenges being faced by providers, with many of the solutions on display directly addressing burnout and resource shortages, and improving clinician efficiency. These workflow tools manifest in several different ways, with both new tools, but more frequently an expansion of previously seen developments. Camera-based workflows, for example, were once again on display at the show. While camera-based systems have been available for several years, at RSNA 2022 they were far more prevalent and increasingly sophisticated, with advanced modality systems ensuring correct patient positioning, detecting patient movement which could have rendered an image unusable and ensuring correct alignment, for example.
This focus on workflow was also shared with solutions aiming to improve the efficiency of image acquisition and analysis, with vendors identifying pain points which, though individually minor, could across an entire imaging workflow, or cumulatively over an extended period, offer considerable time savings. Vendors, for example, demonstrated solutions that automatically rotate images across all body parts in order to save radiologists a minimal amount of time on each read, an amount which, over time, can contribute to much-improved efficiency. The same is true of automatic patient recognition to streamline the capturing of images, and automatic accept/reject functionality for image quality control, which helps catch scans that aren’t of diagnostic quality early, minimising the need for rescans and helping to ensure the efficient running of radiology departments.
This workflow focus was also apparent in ultrasound, with vendors looking to solve the same problems being faced by providers. As with other modalities, digital advancement was crucial in realising these goals, with, for example, remote collaboration and teleultrasound systems helping to mitigate staff shortages by allowing experienced sonographers to support less experienced colleagues and effectively attend to more patients. Not all advancement on display was digital however, with several vendors releasing new ultrasound systems. A number of these systems centred around versatility and shared services that provide utility in a number of scenarios.
While such trends are already significant in some ultrasound markets, such as in China, there is growing interest in such versatility more broadly with providers and the caution they must exercise with regards to their budgets an important consideration that can be aided by the purchasing of systems that can be used in a greater variety of cases.
Despite this trend, however, vendors are still keen to highlight their premium platforms, and some vendors whose product refresh schedules coincided with RSNA 2022, used the conference to show off their latest top-of-the-line wares.
These products will, no doubt have garnered attention, but, as noted in the recent Premium Insight detailing our expectations for the show, attendees’ focus was primarily lavished on the advanced modalities.
The pace of innovation has, over recent years, tended to be quicker in advanced imaging than it has for other modalities. This rapid development and heightened competition means that vendors have more to highlight at conferences and exhibitions, and providers have higher hopes of finding transformative products which can significantly aid them as they face the hurdles in the industry. Some of this focus was on hardware itself, with photon-counting CT, a technology that vendors expect to radically expand the clinical capability of CT imaging when it becomes widely commercially available, one of the central considerations of the leading CT vendors. Although there were not major announcements or new product introductions for photon-counting CT, vendors were keen to discuss their progress with the technology and assure providers of its imaging credentials.
CT and MRI weren’t the only advanced modalities focused on by vendors. There was also a more concerted effort to show molecular imaging systems at RSNA, with several leading vendors highlighting both their latest products as well as how molecular imaging could offer significant benefits in some key clinical workflows, such as prostate cancer detection, myocardial blood flow and urology for example. Vendors were keen to show exactly how molecular imaging could offer sizable clinical improvements compared to other, presently more common workflows.
This focus on clinical utility was not unique to molecular imaging, however, with vendors showing how different modalities were particularly suitable for meeting specific clinical requirements. Once again, this offered vendors the opportunity to emphasise the improvements offered by their latest CT technologies, with vendors highlighting how spectral CT and photon-counting CT could be particularly advantageous in more critical clinical situations.
This promotion went beyond merely showing and demonstrating the products however, with vendors keen to highlight clinical validation studies to providers in a bid to prove their claims and encourage excitement and readiness among providers for the latest products as they become increasingly available commercially.
As well as their endeavours to demonstrate the clinical value of their latest hardware, vendors were also attempting to engage providers with the software, and particularly AI tools they have been developing and expanding. Unlike in previous years, there wasn’t a litany of high-profile partnerships announced, with vendors instead highlighting incremental progress forward. For example, vendors broadened the clinical use cases that their AI tools could be utilised on, expanding the number of clinical applications built into their workstations. These tools will not revolutionise a hospital’s imaging workflow, but, at a time when efficiency amidst hospital’s limited resource is crucial, the ability of such tools to reduce the time required for acquisition and reconstruction, and minimise mistakes will have been well received by the providers in attendance at RSNA.
There was a similar pattern among ultrasound vendors. While there are some factors that make ultrasound imaging unique, such as the need for solutions to often be implemented in real time, as the scan is being conducted, rather than applied retroactively on the PACS, the focus was, as with other modalities, once again on workflow and tools focused on clinical efficiency rather than improving diagnostic AI.
Once again, vendors’ focus was squarely on the clinical problems providers are being forced to overcome at present. This focus from providers on their current challenges, as well as vendors’ readiness to address them, ensured that RSNA’s annual meeting was purposeful and productive. Attendance may still have been lower than in the years immediately preceding the Coronavirus pandemic, and, even with the attendance of more Asian vendors, there were still some significant companies which were unable to attend, with Chinese vendors a notable absence. But with what are several potentially difficult years ahead for providers, there is a keenness to invest in solutions, and work with vendors, to ensure that radiological needs can be met.
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