Most of this year's Top 10 Trends - as prioritized by our readers - spring from a single factor. What's that red-hot imaging technology? Why, 64-slice CT, of course. CT is proving to be the center of the universe as it pushes radiology, cardiology and healthcare IT departments to re-think image acquisition, processing, PACS, network strength and image storage. It's tangling in its web all by perhaps one of the other Top 10 Trends, including improving department workflow, increasing imaging procedure volume, managing multislice CT images, buying a multislice CT scanner, adding and improving web access to images, providing image access outside of radiology (OR, ER, ICU), adding advanced visualization, improving the speed and bandwidth of your network and adding enterprise storage. Network security is the sole Top Trend that doesn't directly relate, but sure does indirectly.
All four major CT vendors are in full-throttle production, and CT's big guns can be found in every corner of the country. In fact, when media mogul Oprah Winfrey underwent a cardiac scan this summer in Chicago, she mistakenly publicized the scanners as limited to big cities. In fact, the technology can be found at all types and sizes of healthcare enterprises in cities large and small.
The 'greater than 16-slice' category of CT scanners is the fastest growing and largest segment of CT right now. About 1,200 64-slice systems have been ordered since mid-2004, and the installed base hovers at a rapidly growing 600.
Large hospitals with more than 400 beds have shown the most interest in 64-slice scanners; however, clinical studies and positive feedback from early adopters has fueled growth in other arenas. Medium-size hospitals ranging from 150 to 400 beds have entered the market, and diagnostic imaging centers are eyeing and buying the technology, too. Private-practice cardiologists comprise the final market segment; they place approximately 25 to 30 percent of 64-slice orders, which has intensified the turf battle between radiology and cardiology. But 64-slice also has smoothed rifts between radiology and cardiology who now work in close collaboration, such as the tight-knit radiology-cardiology team at early-adopter Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee and Cardiology Associates in Mobile, Ala., that gains radiology insight from an off-site radiologist.
Despite the 64-slice hype, 16- and 32-slice scanners are still quite clinically valuable. And therefore, overall CT sales are booming - topping $1.3 billion in 2004, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. As facilities deploy 64-slice scanners, the lower-slice-count systems are moved to other areas such as oncology or urology.
Many of our survey respondents are grappling with issues related to 64-slice scanners. Some of the big questions include:
How do you research, purchase and install a multislice CT scanner? (No. 4)
Once the scanner is installed, how do you manage all of that data? (No. 3) And how do you increase procedure volume to ensure profits? (No. 2)
Moving hefty multislice CT datasets around a facility and even outside is no small challenge. Network speed and bandwidth must suffice and be ready for further increases in volume. (No. 8)
Advanced visualization solutions can optimize multislice results. 3D software and hardware are necessary to post-process certain multislice studies, and it can boost workflow. (No. 9)
Other hot topics transcend multislice madness and mimic timeless radiology challenges. Fine-tuning department workflow - which tops this year's trends - is an ongoing challenge, exacerbated by several forces: the increased volume of data generated per study by multislice scanners as well as companion 3D images, an aging population with greater needs for imaging services and the well-documented radiologist and technologist shortage.
Current technology puts radiologists at the top of their game by providing them with multiple tools to create beautiful, clinically relevant images. The challenge of disseminating those images is formidable. Web and enterprise image access (No. 5 and No. 7) keeps more than a few imaging and IT staffers awake at night. IT challenges round out the list. Network security (No. 6) is key, and managing patient images and information on an enterprise level (No. 10) may be the glue that holds imaging together as it provides the structure for rapid dissemination and a home for all of that data.
This month, Health Imaging & IT visits with a