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Karl Blight: Why Medical Technology Companies Hold Key to Meeting Healthcare’s Biggest Challenges


Karl Blight, GE Healthcare UK & Ireland General Manager


Vscan*, GE Healthcare's pocket-sized visualization device, based on ultrasound technology, which provides real-time imaging capability

Writing recently in ‘Health Service Journal’, GE Healthcare UK & Ireland General Manager Karl Blight argued that medical device companies play a key role in helping medical practitioners deliver better, more cost effective care to patients.

Healthcare practitioners today are only too aware of the “perfect storm” of challenges they face. In the short term, the most pressing issue is the need to cut costs and find a sustainable model for financing healthcare whilst still improving clinical outcomes. Longer term, they face the dual issue of an ageing population and the consequent explosion in chronic and neurodegenerative diseases. Given the sometimes significant capital outlay required to purchase a new piece of medical technology, some may feel that new medical technology actually contributes to spiraling healthcare costs. Blight, however, highlights that “as strange as it may seem, investing in new technology can actually reduce costs over the longer term.” For example, sticking with older equipment when new technology exists may lead to a false economy: not only could you incur potentially higher maintenance costs but reliability issues could cost valuable staff time and may disrupt patient appointments. New equipment can aid productivity with faster throughput and higher quality images, enabling more confident diagnoses and making repeat scans less likely.


Helping meet the efficiency challenge

Blight went on to explain how medical device manufacturers like GE are helping improve hospital productivity by offering long term partnership contracts, focused on services as well as products, which look across the whole patient pathway and allow access to up-to-date, well maintained equipment and on-going staff training on the equipment. Many are also investing in the development of new products which have been engineered to meet specific needs at a lower price point – so if hospitals don’t actually need the high end ultrasound machine available on the market, they don’t have to pay for one. A good example is Vscan*, GE Healthcare’s pocket-sized visualisation device, based on ultrasound technology, which provides real-time imaging capability, fits into a physician’s pocket, and is a fraction of the cost of a very high end unit. Because of its portability, Vscan is also being used in remote villages around the world. This innovative device is providing a tool to healthcare providers that helps combat the issue of accessibility to medical technology in the developing world.

In the Healthcare IT space, a survey commissioned by GE and conducted by ACR Image Metrix–a subsidiary of the American College of Radiology–showed up to 2.5 hours in a radiologist’s day is wasted due to inefficiencies caused by multiple logins, separate workstations, and tools which behave differently. ‘Universal Viewer’ integrates patient data from different systems into one interface, potentially enabling a 5% productivity improvement for radiology departments.

Other examples of technology being used to help improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery include: capacity planning in hospitals where in-depth analysis of patient flows enable hospital procedures to be re-engineered and beds reconfigured to meet demand; Radiology Information Systems (RIS) and Picture Archiving Communications Systems (PACS) which store patient information centrally and allow remote access to radiologists 24/7; and Vendor Neutral Archives which mean information can be shared between practitioners both inside a hospital and with the wider medical community outside the organisation.

Looking to the future, technology in the form of digitisation of patient information is set to play an increasingly important role in eliminating the huge variation in healthcare provision which still exists.

Of course, it is true that there is a price attached to innovation, but, Blight argues, rather than focusing on the initial capital outlay associated with a new piece of equipment, healthcare budget holders should focus on the total value that can be derived from their investment in both the short and longer term. At the same time, healthcare systems should consider the latest innovations so that best practice for patients becomes the norm.

*Trademark of General Electric Company