Tuesday, November 29, 2011

RSNA 2011: Siemens Hints At The Future

I mentioned something in the last post about attending the Siemens Media Breakfast, and I promised to elaborate.

As a quasi member of the press, perhaps we should say vanity press, I was once again invited to the annual media event. Being on my new eating program, I didn't take much advantage of the proffered breakfast, but I did listen intently to the talks given by Hermann Requardt, President and Chief Executive Officer of Siemens Healthcare, and Gregory Sorensen, MD, Chief Executive Officer, Siemens Healthcare North America.

There were the usual announcements and scanner refreshes/updates.  The Siemens Biograph mCT gets some new software to allow better quantitation and reproducibility. We are told that this is the best selling PET/CT on the market today.  Wish I had one. The Biograph mMR, the PET/MR scanner, has been installed at 10 sites with 20 pending orders. Wish I had one of those, too, but a $5M expenditure is not in my future. While it was said that the mMR has no competition, Philips apparently has one about to be approved, and GE did announce one in the works.

Two new CT scanners were announced, the Somatom Definition Edge, a single-source scanner utilizing the new Stellar Detector, with 0.3mm routine spatial resolution, and the "business class" Somatom Perspective, a 128-slice state-of-the-art machine with low dose imaging and a lower price point.

There will be two new Acuson units, the cheaper S1000 and the top of the line S3000, the latter having built in automatic fusion to other modalities.

There is a new association with Eli Lilly to distribute the latter's amyloid tracer via Siemens' PET NET network.

The syngo family is mobilized, in other words, it can be accessed remotely, via computer or iPad or whatever. Supposedly mobile apps will allow manipulation, although on the exhibit floor, there was a some hemming and hawing as to how much one can or cannot do on an iPad.

More important than the machinery are the rather candid observations offered by the Siemens execs.

Dr. Requardt opened with a statement that we all know is true: Healthcare spending at current levels is not sustainable. In developed countries, there is the desire to decrease costs, but in emerging countries  there is need to increase access to health care. Siemens sees a "sweet spot" wherein the two curves meet, and they plan to position themselves to take full advantage of this. Turning the conventional paradigms around, Siemens now views therapy as the driver of imaging, and using industrial terminology, healthcare becomes a "project" business, wherein innovation is the solution and not the problem. The disconnect between diagnosis and treatment lead to increased nonconformance costs, and a shift to emphasize therapy my better satisfy patients' needs and wants.

Dr. R rather humbly (or not) noted that Siemens had "misdirected" some investments because they didn't realize the healthcare sector was "not fast enough to respond to technology". Hate to say it, but this implies the sector wasn't smart enough to grasp some of what Siemens offered. Or perhaps what Siemens gave us here and there wasn't what we needed at the time. Particle therapy was cited as a case in point. Siemens developed/created/improved the technology, but it hasn't sold well. Apparently, this was NOT one of the "non-regret" moves Siemens wants to see in the future.

I've already alluded to the statement about PACS. "We will focus on core secgments," said Dr. Requardt. "RIS/PACS today is a commodity these days, with dramatic changes in network environments. Our future investments will reflect this." Is Siemens dropping out of the RIS/PACS market? It seems that with every vendor now offering a Vulture Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA), Siemens no longer wants to compete (much?) in this space.  Sad, given the fact that the new syngo.plaza might actually be their first workable interface.

Dr. Sorenson took over, describing the demographic "wave" of aging Baby-Boomers (hey, I'm one of them!!) 80% of healthcare costs are for older patients, and Medicare is decreasing spending. Imaging expenditures are being cut back in particular, with still some increases for primary care. Dr. Sorenson describes imaging reimbursement as a bubble: reimbursement was so high that it created its own demand. (To be fair, the equipment companies, including Siemens, need to stand up and acknowledge the role they played in dangling those reimbursements in front of clinicians as incentives to purchase their scanners.)

In what I find to be a rather ominous, but still realistic, approach, Siemens plans to address the increased scrutiny we docs are now experiencing, mainly from governmental sources. This drive masquerades as a drive toward minimizing "practice variability". IT tools will move us toward evidence-based, rational care. Reading deeply between the lines, our systems will tattle on us physicians if we stray from the government (or third-party payer norm, whatever that is. Big Brother will be watching us. Now, I don't blame Siemens for this, and being a good Capitalist, I will even applaud them for blazing a path to profit through this mess. But I'm still not happy about it at all. It's probably time to retire.

Siemens will spend 1.4 Billion Euro on R&D this year, and it certainly shows. That's actually just about the same number as their reported profit.

Finally, Siemens, the German company, now manufactures half of its CT's in China. "We make it wherever it's adequate to make it." The factories in China are 100% staffed by Chinese nationals, and the facilities are identical to their German counterparts. Far better to invest in China than to be the main investment, I would say.

I wonder what Siemens will bring us next year?

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