Key Trends Shaping the Future of Radiology
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Carestream’s strategies to help address emerging challenges.
Clearly, as we enter 2021, the world is in an intense state of flux — and so is the field of radiology. In today’s post, we interview Jorge Quant, Carestream’s Global Marketing Director, to drill down into the specifics of 3 trends and their likely impacts on diagnostic imaging in the years to come.
Good afternoon, Jorge. Thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with us today and share your expertise. Before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about your background and responsibilities at Carestream?
Sure. I’ve been with Carestream for almost nine years now. Today, as Global Marketing Director, I’m responsible for the definition and execution of our brand and product marketing strategy, digital and content marketing, channel marketing, public relations and customer experience. Prior to that I held several other global and Latin American-focused marketing positions for the company. All of these roles required me to keep a constant finger on the pulse of emerging trends in radiology.
Thank you. And trends are indeed the topic of the day. So can you begin by giving us a quick run-down of the ones you see as the most influential?
Well, of course there are many at play. But I believe that among them there are three primary trends that will shape healthcare and radiology in particular:
- changing demographics
- the rise of chronic disease,
- and patient empowerment and involvement in their own healthcare
Trend #1: Changing Demographics
Ok, let´s start with the first one — changing demographics. Explain this trend for us and the way it’s impacting healthcare and, more specifically, radiology.
Demographics are shifting in many areas, but what really stands out to me is the rapid growth of the older population and their expanding life expectancy — while at the same time, percentage-wise, the global population of young people is declining. In fact, those in the age group of 65 and older comprise, for the first time in history, the fastest growing age group on the planet. So much so that this group is projected to outnumber young people (those between the ages of 15-24) by the year 2050.
That’s a dramatic demographic shift — what are the potential impacts?
There are many, and all of them are significant. First off, most obviously, as people grow older they require more healthcare services — such as diagnosis and treatment of orthopaedic conditions and injuries. So demand for imaging studies is bound to rise.
At the same time, because of the wonderful medical and scientific advances being made, life expectancy is increasing in most parts of the world. So it won’t be just a demand for a greater volume of studies — it’ll be a greater volume of studies over a longer period of years. Clearly, this will require a vast expansion of healthcare infrastructure, as well as financing which will have to be provided by a declining population of younger and middle-aged people.
It would seem that this combination of greater need with potentially compromised infrastructure and financing will put significant cost and resource pressure on the entire industry.
That’s correct. And those compromised resources will likely include a deficit of highly trained radiologists and radiographers, insufficient numbers of well-equipped hospitals and imaging facilities, and the list goes on. We’re already seeing unmistakable signs of this. And as governments worldwide seek to provide universal coverage with less funding from that shrinking younger, productive population, they will likely shift the pressure to healthcare providers — who will have to find ways to do even more with less.
Addressing Demographic-Driven Increases in Volume and Costs
Does Carestream have strategies in place to help address this problem?
Absolutely. We’re working to support our customers on three fronts.
Strategy number one is our ongoing mission to develop a portfolio of solutions that provide our customers with the advanced capabilities they expect from Carestream, but at affordable prices that accommodate today’s growing financial pressures. For example, we recently launched our new DRX Compass X-ray Room — it gives our customers an economical, yet powerful, feature-rich system designed to grow and adapt to their needs as they evolve. This helps minimize technology obsolescence and protect their investment over time.
We’ve also expanded our detector portfolio with the Focus 43C and 35C detectors that give cost-pressured facilities an affordable way to upgrade from film or CR to the power of full digital imaging.
Our second strategy involves the development of highly advanced software features — many of which are powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced algorithms — that help improve productivity in radiology departments by streamlining workflow, reducing waste and improving patient throughput.
As an example, the Imageview Software powering our DRX-Evolution Plus System includes Digital Tomosynthesis. This dramatically streamlines workflow with a single-sweep exposure capability and by separating the process of DT exposure-acquisition from image-volume formation. Consequently, it can generate data from a series of low-dose X-ray images of the same area of interest, with the exposure taken from different angles.
So not only can our customers acquire high-quality 3D images faster — which means they can complete more exams in less time — but also at a much lower dose than that required by standard CT. This dose control is especially valuable for patients with chronic diseases who require regular or frequent exams to monitor the progress of their disease.
We’re also developing innovative hardware to provide meaningful workflow improvements — such as our new DRX-L Detector. It’s a full-digital solution that significantly reduces exam time and dose for spinal or long bone studies by acquiring long-length images in a single shot.
Strategy number three for helping our customers face volume and cost challenge centers is our Customer Success Network — an integrated system of people, processes and technology that help customers derive the maximum value from their Carestream solutions by minimizing equipment downtime and increasing the return on their investment.
The prospect of fewer people of economically productive ages carrying the financial burden of not only the older population — but also that of young people below productive age — is certainly concerning. So the strategies you just outlined sound critical. Do you see other demographic shifts likely to create challenges for our customers?
Urbanization and Rise of the Middle Class
Yes —the acceleration in urbanization is an important one. All over the world, more and more people are moving from rural areas to the cities. According to the United Nations, up until 2009 more people lived in rural areas than in urban areas; today over 55% of the world´s population lives in towns and cities. By 2050, almost 70% of the world´s population is projected to be urban. This, of course, is expected to happen primarily in places in Asia and Africa where fertility rates remain high, but it also holds true for most of the world. (1)
We’ll also be affected by the rise of the Middle Class, particularly in developing countries. The Brookings Institute estimates that 65% of the population of the world will enter the middle class by 2030. (2) So we’re talking both about more people in cities and more people with the ability to pay for healthcare. This will definitely mean an increase in the demand for medical services.
This middle-class phenomenon is projected to occur largely in developing nations in Asia and Africa (where population is expected to double by 2050) and South America. Whereas in places like Europe, the population is shrinking and aging.
I would think that discrepancy would make it hard to design a global strategy to counter the problems.
A Global Strategy Requires Extreme Flexibility and Adaptability
That’s right. Because the demographic shifts and economic consequences won’t be evenly distributed around the world, companies like ours will need to be highly flexible and adaptive in order to design effective solutions for the various global regions. Carestream, for example, continues to hold a leadership position in the medical film market in Latin America, China and India — where film is still the preferred solution. In Europe and the United States and Canada, where the majority of facilities have gone digital, we offer our DR rooms, mobile X-ray systems and detectors.
In short, we strive to maintain a close focus on each region’s challenges, many of which are generated by the trends we’re discussing today that are out of the customer’s control. In response, we’re expanding our portfolio of solutions to solve the needs of each individual market… based on its current and future conditions.
As much as we would all like to believe in global equality, the truth is that there are relevant differences between the regions that require us to adapt our solutions to meet very specific needs. So that’s what we’re doing. In my mind, this is the true definition of a global company. It is not an organization that pushes one-size-fits-all solutions, but one that seeks first to understand the singularities of the various customer segments and then develops the best solution for each.
Trend #2: The Rise of Chronic Disease
OK, let’s shift gears now and talk about the second trend that will shape the future of radiology: the rise of chronic disease. Can you elaborate on that issue and how it could affect the future of medical imaging?
Yes. Unfortunately, chronic diseases — such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes —are growing exponentially in prevalence. Worse, this trend will continue to accelerate unless we start to see significant positive changes in high-impact lifestyle choices regarding nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and substance abuse. The statistics on this are truly frightening. For example, by 2050, one-third of the U.S. population of the Unites States will most likely be living with diabetes.
Similar trends are in play for heart disease and cancer. These diseases, along with mental illness, already account for 90% of total healthcare expenditures in the United States. (3) So again, we have a storm on the horizon which will, without a doubt, impact the demand for healthcare and the ways we will need to deliver it.
That’s a very alarming scenario. Can you expand on the repercussions this is expected to have on healthcare and imaging… and how we can deal with them?
From Managing Disease to Preventing It
To begin with, no existing healthcare or economic system will be able to bear the heavy economic burden of the projected rise in chronic diseases. So the first strategic solution is to find ways to reverse the trend. Healthcare institutions and governments are realizing that there is a much higher long-term benefit in shifting from managing disease to preventing disease.
For instance, in radiology, we need a move from imaging to diagnose disease to imaging to help prevent it. Also, because chronic disease patients require frequent and regular exams over time, we must find ways to minimize the lifetime dosage these patients receive. Again, this is where technologies such as Carestream´s Digital Tomosynthesis and long-length DRX-L Detector come in — helping provide care for these patients with greater dose efficiency… and with no sacrifice in image quality.
Trend #3: Patients’ Expanding Role in Their Own Care
Regarding the shift from managing disease to preventing disease: does this connect with the third trend that you mentioned? Patient empowerment and involvement in their own healthcare?
It certainly does. For example — during the current pandemic, we’ve seen an incredible acceleration of telemedicine. Many patients were not going to a physical location for care — but rather using digital technology to communicate with their physicians from their homes. This is the sort of approach that will be crucial as we move forward.
Of course, this shifts some of the infrastructure burden to the patient… since in order to receive an accurate diagnosis they’ll need to possess and know how to operate the devices that provide important biometric information — such as blood pressure, glucose levels, body mass index, cholesterol, and so on. But as more wearable, mobile and home medical-device technology continues to evolve, more and more patients will be enabled to be participate in their own care. And this is bound to increase as we see virtual artificial intelligence assistants continue to evolve.
Still, as the healthcare industry seeks to become more preventative and less corrective, working with patients to help them achieve a healthier lifestyle and prevent illness is going to be the key. Health institutions will need to develop stronger nutrition, fitness and mindfulness programs if we are to reduce the heavy burden of chronic disease going forward.
Conclusion: Some Valuable Advice
Jorge, we’ve talked about many things today, from changes in demographics to changes in lifestyle. In conclusion, could you share any guidance you have for our customers as we move into this challenging future?
First, I would suggest that when it comes to deciding on imaging equipment, that customers look to platforms such as our DRX-Compass — which will give them everything they need today but also grow with their evolving needs. Because one thing is certain: those needs will evolve.
I would also recommend that they look for technology that provides a broad range of solutions… solutions that meet not only their imaging needs, but also their operational requirements.
If you look at our Eclipse image-processing platform, you’ll see that in the design of its feature sets we’ve looked well beyond image processing. We’re rapidly adding new capabilities, many of them AI-powered, to provide our customers with imaging intelligence, workflow efficiency and healthcare analytics. These advanced offerings will give them new and innovative ways to face the operational and workflow challenges of today and tomorrow — while continuing to improve diagnostic precision and confidence.
Thank you so much speaking with us today. Do you have any closing thoughts?
Yes. Above all else, I want to assure our customers that we will continue to listen carefully to them and to their individual regional market to better understand their changing needs… and adapt quickly to provide the solutions that they need and their patients deserve.
1 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; May 2018 https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html
2 Brookings Institution; Sept 2018; https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2018/09/27/a-global-tipping-point-half-the-world-is-now-middle-class-or-wealthier/
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases; https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm