Medical Imaging Trends in Asia Pacific
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COVID-19’s impact on healthcare professionals, their patients and the businesses that provide medical imaging solutions.
COVID-19 has disrupted healthcare delivery around the world. In this edition of Everything Rad, we explore the impact of COVID-19 and other factors on medical imaging trends in Asia Pacific.
Everything Rad asked three people from our Asia-Pacific region—Tiffany Chiew, General Manager, Quantum Healthcare Australia and New Zealand; Fabio, XRS Business Manager, Tawada Healthcare in Indonesia; and Anton Tan, General Manager for Carestream in Asia—for their observations from the past year, and the trends they’re seeing in medical imaging for the remainder of 2021.
Everything Rad: What are the top 3 challenges facing medical imaging in 2021?
TIFFANY: One of the main challenges is the apparent disruption to capital expenditure budgets and redirected priorities. Some projects have been delayed or postponed indefinitely. Healthcare funding has been redirected toward emergency COVID-19 measures such as PPE, ventilators, and social funding—all this means we need to rethink our approach to the industry and how we can add value as a supplier and service provider.
Another challenge is the need to adapt quickly to the increase in requirements for infection control compliance. We have responded through the development and implementation of supplier approved cleaning protocols. From the customer perspective, these measures increase operating costs and extend the turnaround time between patients, thereby impacting a clinic’s bottom line.
Another challenge facing the industry is the result of fewer educational events. Clearly there were limited conferences and opportunities for product launches. This also led to less networking opportunities between industry representatives and healthcare workers. We did however see an increase in online presence and an uptake of AI technology applications that use data and software analytics. We can already see that these advances will continue to bring new applications and efficiencies to every aspect of medical imaging.
FABIO: The first would be an increased demand for portable imaging. Imaging that’s truly portable is needed because there have been so many COVID-19 cases, and every kind of exam must be in an isolation room or floor. Medical personnel need to bring the minimum pieces of equipment required to do the exams and they must be fast, since healthcare personnel are at high risk for contracting the virus.
Next, I’d say fast imaging results are a challenge, which is related to portable imaging. The image has to be transferred super-fast, either to the console or PACS. Technologists want a workflow that uses a wireless detector so that they can send images directly from the isolation room or floor to the radiologists’ monitors which are often in a different location or building. So wireless communication, and the use of wireless detectors, all need to be expanded, especially since a wireless detector can send an image to its console and also send it through the hospital’s networks and other clinical areas.
And then there’s the need for robust equipment. Hospitals will likely choose one of two options. The first is a device that can handle the radiology department and isolation room or floor. That means that the equipment must be rugged, since it will be on the move a lot and used by many technologists…and each one will use the device differently and take a unique route within the hospital. The second option is to place a device in the isolation area. Both options need DR workflow and fast imaging results.
ANTON: At the top of my list, I’d say limited budget for new equipment and upgrades. The government has reallocated funds for testing and vaccines, and private hospitals have seen their finances negatively affected by COVID-19…patients have postponed treatment, medical tourism was decimated, and there were increasing costs surrounding pandemic-related health protocols.
Another big challenge is workflow, as infection prevention limits moving patients within hospitals and clinics.
Third, there’s a lot more pressure to supply teleradiology, not only from radiologists who want to offer remote diagnoses, but also from referring physicians who want the speed of digital results.
Everything Rad: What other ways has COVID-19 impacted medical imaging?
TIFFANY: There has definitely been reduced volumes in outpatient medical imaging clinics due to social distancing regulations and lockdowns. This reduced available appointments, which has led to longer waiting lists for exams such as ultrasound and interventional procedures.
FABIO: CT, MRIs and angiography exams were impacted the most, but they are not as badly affected now. Since the first screening for COVID-19 patients is an X-ray exam, there have been lots more X-rays, especially the mobile type, and hospitals have been the biggest providers of those. Also, wireless portable systems are being used more, especially the type that can be carried by hand. Workflow has changed a lot.
ANTON: Exams other than for COVID-19 decreased significantly. The most affected were screenings such as those for pre-employment and breast cancer screenings, but exams were also down for non-critical diseases and elective radiology. Inpatient radiology exams were down too, as admissions have been down. Hospitals are allocating beds to COVID-19 patients, and other people have been avoiding hospitals as much as possible.
Everything Rad: Are there any significant changes to be aware of in medical imaging in 2021?
TIFFANY: In our region, healthcare centers and hospitals are experiencing qualified staffing shortages for specialized aged care workers, ICU nurses and imaging graduates. Once vaccinations roll out and international travel resumes, hopefully more local and international students enrolled in healthcare studies will return to rectify this challenge.
Changes such as our aging population—and lower birth rates—will impact future healthcare economics, so there is a general interest in how this will shape our future and what needs to happen now to avoid a shortage of qualified practitioners in Australia.
I believe that AI will have a bigger role in general population patient screening, both in the acquisition—for example, with positioning tools driven by AI—and in interpreting the diagnosis. This is already available with the new CARESTREAM DRX-Compass and the CARESTREAM Eclipse AI engine.
FABIO: The situation in Indonesia is that patients versus hospital capacity and medical personnel is out of balance. Radiographers and radiologists are needed more than ever these days.
ANTON: Hospitals are increasingly interested in PACS and teleradiology, artificial intelligence and Big Data.
Everything Rad: Are there any new or upcoming regulations that will have an impact on medical imaging?
TIFFANY: Fewer regulations have been announced—the last one was a six-month extension for Diagnostic Imaging Accreditation Scheme— so that clinics could continue to provide services during the pandemic. I believe that administrators are busy catching up on accreditation requirements now.
FABIO: Rules lost pace with the rapid flow of information and technology. For Indonesia, people were asking about medical regulations as they relate to new equipment they were using with new features, which they don’t fully understand yet.
ANTON: I expect there will be an increased focus on cybersecurity.
Everything Rad: What questions about COVID-19, imaging and your services are you hearing the most?
TIFFANY: There have been a lot of questions are about mobile imaging and the features available on the CARESTREAM DRX-Revolution Mobile X-ray System, which has been a popular product in our region. We also had questions about setting up mobile imaging systems to take out to patients. For example, The Alfred Health Network published a study (1) on the innovative technique of taking mobile X-rays through glass featuring the DRX-Revolution. This led to clinical applications questions, and we were able to refer people to this research to see if it could be applied to their own situation.
FABIO: We get asked about the availability of portable imaging solutions such as mobile X-ray/DR or wireless detectors. Healthcare facilities also have questions about daily maintenance for equipment, and how to sterilize the DRX-Revolution after it has been used in an isolation room or floor where they have COVID-infected patients.
ANTON: The questions we had related to the immediate availability of mobile X-rays, features to improve infection control, and access to remote training opportunities.
Everything Rad: How is COVID-19 impacting your interactions with customers? How are you accommodating their concerns at this time?
TIFFANY: There’s been less face-to-face interaction and more customer engagement via video conferencing, phone calls and email communication. As we ease back into normalcy, there’s definitely a greater appreciation of networking opportunities and educational events.
FABIO: We’ve been handling all of our marketing tasks via online media—only engineers are still going on-site. A few customers in rural areas have invited us to come to their locations, since they weren’t able to go online, and there are still a few customers who want face-to-face meetings.
ANTON: As in-person visits to customer sites are difficult, our sales team, including our distributors, are increasingly reliant on online tools like Zoom for meetings, virtual presentations and even virtual booths.
Everything Rad: What has the biggest potential to improve healthcare in 2021?
TIFFANY: Appropriate funding of the latest technology roll-outs to benefit patients and healthcare workers. Also, an investment in infrastructure in remote locations to improve patient imaging outcomes and access to the latest technology. This requires a coordinated approach from industry and decision makers to allocate funding that will have the most impact.
FABIO: The government is likely to build a couple new hospitals or upgrade existing hospitals.
Editor’s note: With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that digital technology and mobile radiology devices are being increasingly adopted in the Asian-Pacific region. Recent research backs this up. The Modor Intelligence report, “South America Portable X-ray Devices Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021-2026), states that:
“In the present scenario, the adoption rate of digital X-ray systems is not (or close to) 100%, in spite of their advantages over analog systems. However, this scenario is expected to change soon, and the X-ray devices market is likely to be almost completely dominated by digital X-ray systems in the future.” (2)
And while our respondents talked about potential budget restraints due to the huge expenses of the past year’s pandemic, other research points to an uptick in in momentum for the second half of 2021, with diagnostic imaging forecasted to grow to a record 7.5% CAGR through 2025. (3) The Modor report points out that the increase in the geriatric population is helping to drive growth in digital radiology—which is a key factor in populations worldwide.
- Key Trends Shaping the Future of Radiology
- Benefits of Mobile Imaging
- Resuming Routine Radiology Care During COVID-19
- Disinfectant Guidelines for Carestream Products
- Deploying Mobile X-ray to COVID Front Lines in Singapore
(1)Time, Shielding and Extra Distance; Dr. Zoe Brady (PhD, MACPSEM)
Chief Imaging Physicist / Radiation Safety Officer; Alfred Health, Melbourne, Victoria; Australia International Organization for Medical Physic
(2) South America Portable X Ray Devices Market; Mordor Intelligence
(3) Asia Pacific Diagnostic Imaging Market to Record 7.5% CAGR through 2025; BioSpace