Concerns about terrorism ran like an underground current through the eye-popping displays and demonstrations of the 87th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America last week in Chicago.
Radiologists used the conference to report on the key role CT has played in detecting cases of anthrax.
On Nov. 28, the fourth day of the six-day event, RSNA officials reported a 13% drop in registration, to 21,168 professionals, students and press, because of a perceived terrorist threat. The 27,687 exhibitors on the floor represented a 10% downturn from the previous year.
Despite the lower attendance, major exhibitors reported they were busy as ever, with serious purchasers on the prowl for the latest and greatest technology. Paul Mirabella, president and chief executive officer of the recently formed healthcare services division of GE Medical Systems, Waukesha, Wis., was showing off a new tracking device the size of a small pager that can be attached to expensive equipment throughout a hospital. Location information is then relayed to a computer screen. He said 50 GE executives were tagged with the device at the show so they could be quickly located. They needed it: GE officials said they were busy with customers from morning until night.
As stressful as the Sept. 11 aftermath has been on the healthcare industry, the medical technology industry says it is none the worse for wear-at least financially. GE Medical Systems President and CEO Joseph Hogan said equipment orders are just as strong now as they were before the terrorist attacks. GE Medical's revenue will grow 14% this year to $8.3 billion from $7.3 billion, he said. Similarly, Hans Barella, president and CEO of Philips Medical Systems, Best, Netherlands, predicted annual sales would grow 8% from the current $6.5 billion, "but we are shooting for much higher."
Last year, the buzz at the RSNA meeting was all about new acquisitions by the three biggest and broadest companies-GE, Philips, and Siemens Medical Solutions, of Erlangen, Germany and Iselin, N.J. (Dec. 4, 2000, p. 14). This year the Big Three rolled out some of the fruits of those deals.
CT, which was one of the spouses in last year's shotgun marriage of positron emission tomography and CT technologies, stole much of that spotlight. With great fanfare, each of the three unveiled their particular versions of 16-slice CT scanners, pushing the envelope in speed, anatomy coverage area and image resolution. Based on X-ray technology, CT images are really an accumulation of horizontal slices. In the past few years those slices increasingly have thinned and multiplied, resulting in more precise images with greater resolution. As a result, CT is becoming masterful at detecting pre-symptomatic abnormalities. All three companies promised the scanners would be commercially available in mid-2002. Philips and Siemens said their versions would list for approximately $1.5 million.
GE and Siemens received Food and Drug Administration approval for their newest CTs in the days leading up to the RSNA forum, while Philips' Mx8000 multislice CT scanner came with the $1.1 billion acquisition of Marconi Medical Systems in October. The FDA cleared the scanner in September.
The 16-slice version's technical leap is tailor-made for lung, heart, and colon scans in three-dimensional graphic detail, setting the stage for the burgeoning scanning market aimed at worried, but relatively healthy baby boomers (Nov. 26, p. 38).
Indeed, Beth Klein, president and CEO of the Americas division of GE, said the company expects its market to grow as much as 10% in the next three to five years, much of that growth fueled by "healthcare consumerism" and more out-of-pocket healthcare spending.
One significantly smaller company is preparing for that new market by revamping its business, which until now was focused mostly on low-tech but widely used barium enemas for colon cancer screening. Westbury, N.Y.-based E-Z-EM, a leader in manufacturing contrast media for traditional gastrointestinal tract studies, showcased a tagging agent that will help radiologists in reading more clearly the CT images of virtual colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy uses multislice CT images to create a noninvasive, three-dimensional reconstruction of the entire colon.
CT was in the limelight on the scientific research side of the RSNA meeting and took a bow for its role in the post-Sept. 11 events. Radiologists reported on the crucial part CT played in providing quick and accurate diagnosis of inhalation anthrax at Inova Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church, Va., where two 56-year-old postal workers survived the deadly disease, and at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, where a 61-year-old supply room worker died.
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology launched a Web site in late October in collaboration with Inova and the American Registry of Pathology to display radiographic images of confirmed anthrax cases. Although CT may not pick up the disease in its earliest stages, the images provided a "striking abnormal finding" of large lymph nodes with blood, said James Earls, a radiologist with Fairfax Radiological Consultants.