As 2011 draws to a close, ITN looks ahead to 2012 and what’s in store for medical imaging. We asked experts from organizations industry-wide to offer a best guess. Their answers focused on how their segment could be impacted in three areas: technology, government/regulatory and business/workflow. They also offered their take on the imaging industry as a whole.
With the appearance of positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance (PET/MR) on the scene this year, the industry will have to figure out just where it fits into the imaging landscape in 2012. George Segall of the Society for Nuclear Medicine (SNM) says, “We can expect an increased focus on how to best utilize the new equipment for nuclear and molecular imaging.”
Not everyone is convinced the technology will take off, however. “I don’t anticipate this will have the immediate clinical acceptance PET/CT had,” says Carlos Vasquez, president-elect of the Association for Medical Imaging Management (AHRA). “However, it will reintroduce MR to more oncology applications.”
Vasquez and Najeeb Mohideen, M.D., of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), agree that the dose reduction debate will continue well into the new year. Mohideen expects advances in technology and biology to help healthcare professionals determine the lowest healthy levels for their patients.
ASTRO also expects the number of cancer patients to increase significantly in the future. Mohideen says members will expect to work hard to ensure manpower and capacity can meet the demand.
Deb Wiggins, executive director of the National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC), expects a fair amount of innovation on the breast imaging frontier, specifically in the hot topic area of dense breast tissue. “Current technologies which will see commercial deployment include digital breast tomosynthesis and automated whole breast ultrasound,” she says. “Innovation will continue as well related to breast MRI, breast CT and nuclear breast imaging.”
Most of those interviewed predict a cautious, subdued political climate in the coming election year. Mohideen points out that health programs make up 23 percent of the federal budget. “In the midst of a massive effort to reduce federal government deficits, they are too large to go unnoticed or leave untouched,” he says.
Vasquez notes the impending introduction of ICD-10 as another cause for concern. “If pieces of the puzzle aren’t in place by the end of the year,” he says, “organizations could find themselves at a disadvantage for meeting the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline for conversion.” (Editor’s note: On Oct. 1, 2013, the ICD-9 code sets used to report medical diagnoses and inpatient procedures will be replaced by ICD-10 code sets. To accommodate the ICD-10 code structure, the transaction standards used for electronic healthcare claims, Version 4010/4010A, must be upgraded to Version 5010 by Jan. 1, 2012. ICD-10 will affect diagnosis and inpatient procedure coding for everyone covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA].)
SNM and NCBC both plan to continue advocating for legislation in their respective fields; Wiggins mentions additional proposals related to breast density, while Segall says SNM will push for domestic production of the molybdenum-99 radioisotope.
Business and Other Challenges
On the business side, everyone believes there are opportunities for change and improvement. Mohideen sums it up: “This will be a challenging year given the economic conditions, an uncertain healthcare environment and a more restrictive regulatory environment.”
Vasquez believes the focus will be on improving workflow. Segall and SNM are concerned with the current classification of radiopharmaceuticals as supplies rather than drugs, and plan to keep the discussion going. Wiggins says breast centers will need to educate physicians and patients about the importance of breast density levels as practices change.
Overall, the consensus seems to be that while there will certainly be challenges, the industry can still expect growth and change in the near future. Exactly what form that will take remains to be seen.