With more than 60,000 attendees from all over the world, the conference of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) creates a predictable buzz each year in the field of medical imaging. This week, in addition to news announcements, product demonstrations, trainings and talks, GE Healthcare is showcasing the results to-date of its healthymagination initiative, which launched last year.
“Our total dedication to efficiency will pay off in terms of improved quality, enhanced customer experience, patient safety and reduced costs,” said John Dineen, President and CEO of GE Healthcare. “This is the vision of healthymagination, and it is our vision for healthcare globally.”
Localizing Product Development
One of the most important aspects of RSNA is the opportunity it creates for people across the medical imaging ecosystem to make connections, discuss hot topics and share ideas. For GE Healthcare staff, it is above all an opportunity to focus on customers and listen.
Listening to customers, and understanding their clinical challenges and needs is something that GE Healthcare has always made a priority. But this year, under the umbrella of healthymagination, a subtle yet crucial change has emerged. Increasingly, GE Healthcare is bringing products to the market that have been designed, developed and manufactured for customers in specific regions, with their own sets of needs and circumstances.
Traditionally, innovation in medical technology has taken place in the most advanced and affluent markets, focusing on the requirements of well-funded hospitals and urban centers. This centralized model of product development was successful and sensible for a long time. There is no question that diagnostic imaging technologies such as MRI, CT and PET have provided ever-increasing diagnostic capabilities to millions of patients around the world.
But until recently, the technologies developed did not take into account the particular needs of rural communities, socially disadvantaged populations, and developing countries. For these populations, products were often unsuitable — too bulky, susceptible to power fluctuations and simply too difficult to maintain in environments they weren’t designed for. Cost also has been a major barrier.
Today, the demand for medical technologies has tipped considerably toward the developing world – namely China, India and Latin America. In these regions, the incidence of chronic conditions is increasing dramatically — conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease and the medical consequences of obesity and diabetes. These regions’ healthcare systems require new and better technologies for screening, earlier diagnosis, treatment assessment and monitoring.
In response to these trends, GE Healthcare has gradually been adopting an “in country for country” approach to product development — researching, developing and manufacturing technology that is appropriate for local customers and local environments.
Let’s take a look at two such examples – the MAC 400* electrocardiogram (ECG) device, developed in India for India, and the Venue 40 tablet-sized portable ultrasound scanner. Both these technologies take healthcare to the patient rather than the other way around, and both were developed and manufactured in emerging markets.
The Phenomenon of Reverse Innovation
What’s clear today is that products designed to meet specific medical needs and circumstances in a developing country often lead to use cases in the western world, particularly in countries where there are large rural, underserved populations. This has become known as “reverse innovation.”
The MAC 400 ECG device was developed in India for India, but its ease of use and portability of the product made them equally attractive for primary care physicians and nurses — both in clinics and for home visits — in other countries. Likewise, GE is striving to make the Vscan portable ultrasound scanner as ubiquitous as a stethoscope, which would enable a sustainable pricing model for even the lowest-income countries of the world and bring this powerful diagnostic technology out of the hospital and to patients wherever they are.
*This product is not cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is not available for sale in the USA.