RSNA 2021 Reflections

The first in-person RSNA since COVID is officially a wrap. Hope you had a blast if you made it to Chicago and a productive week if you stayed home. We also hope you enjoy The Imaging Wire’s big takeaways from what might have been both the most special and most subdued RSNA ever.

Crowds & Conversations – We were already expecting 50% lower attendance than RSNA 2019, but the exhibit hall and cab lines looked more like 70% below 2019’s crowds (even less on Sunday & Wednesday). That said, most of the stronger companies had steady booth traffic and nearly every exhibitor emphasized that the attendees who did show up were ready to have high-quality conversations.

Focus on Productivity – Just about every product message at RSNA focused on productivity and efficiency, often with greater emphasis than clinical effectiveness. The modality-based efficiency enhancements seemed to be the most impactful, which is good news for technologist bandwidth and patient throughput, but might be bad news for rad burnout unless informatics/AI efficiency can catch up (it doesn’t seem like that happened this year).

Modality Milestones – The major OEMs did a good job making modalities cool again, debuting milestone innovations across both their MR (low-helium, low-field, reconstruction, coils) and CT (photon-counting, spectral, upgradability) lineups. We also saw the latest scanners take big strides in operator efficiency and patient experience. There weren’t many breakthroughs with X-ray or ultrasound, and most point-of-care ultrasound OEMs stayed home (rads aren’t their market anyway), but attendees seemed okay with that.

AI Showcase – The RSNA AI Showcase had solid traffic and high energy (especially on Mon & Tues), helped by continued AI buzz and the fact that RSNA finally let AI vendors out of the basement. The AI Showcase highlighted many of the trends we’ve been seeing all year, including larger vendors transitioning to AI platform strategies, an increased focus on workflow integration and care coordination, and a greater emphasis on radiologist efficiency. There were also far fewer brand-new AI tools than previous years, as many vendors focused on improving their current products and/or expanding their portfolio via partnerships. 

PACS Cloud Focus – PACS vendors continued to place a major emphasis on their respective cloud advantages, and there was a widespread consensus that cloud is on every imaging IT roadmap. The PACS vendors seemed to talk less about multi-ology enterprise imaging than previous years, and expanding EI beyond radiology/cardiology still seemed pretty futuristic for most players. It was also quite clear that most of the PACS players’ AI marketplaces/platforms haven’t been as prioritized as earlier announcements might have suggested.

Best RSNA Since… 2019 – We’ve heard some folks saying this was the “best RSNA ever” because it was easy to get around and it was great to see everyone, but those seem more like pandemic silver linings than “best ever” qualifications. Still, the imaging industry made the most of RSNA 2021, and everyone seemed truly happy to be together again after two long years of working from home. As long as COVID cooperates, we should be set up for an excellent RSNA 2022.

GE’s Productive RSNA

GE Healthcare had another busy RSNA, highlighted by several major modality launches and an overarching focus on helping imaging teams be more productive. 

Return to MR Hardware – After focusing on AIR Recon DL during the last two RSNAs, GE Healthcare’s MR team made sure to roll-out new hardware at this year’s show. 

  • GE’s MR section was headlined by its new SIGNA Hero 3T MR, which brings a wide range of improvements (image quality, workflows, productivity, comfort, reconstruction, helium & energy), and a major focus on operator efficiency.  
  • GE also unveiled the SIGNA Artist Evo, which allows health systems / imaging centers to upgrade their existing 1.5T 60cm-bore MRs with 70cm bore systems (w/ AIR Recon DL & AIR Coils), without the construction and downtime typically required when upgrading to a net new MR system.

GE’s Scalable CT Platform – GE unveiled the unique Revolution Apex platform, which offers the modularity and scalability to cover a wide range of current and future needs, and represents GE’s biggest CT launch since 2014. 

  • The FDA-cleared Revolution Apex CT is available with multiple detector coverage configurations (40mm, 80mm, 160mm, upgradable w/o replacing gantry) and is offered with GE’s new Smart Subscription service (allows software upgrades/downgrades, plus auto updates). 
  • True to GE’s productivity focus, the Revolution Apex also includes a range of features to improve technologist efficiency and/or expand clinical applications (e.g. “Effortless Workflow,” patient positioning camera, TrueFidelity DLIR, motion correction for cardiac).

Much More – GE Healthcare has been busy throughout 2021, so although the other products in its RSNA booth were still quite new, they’ve already been detailed in previous Imaging Wire issues. Some of these other highlights include its in-development Photon Counting CT, it’s now FDA-approved Endotracheal Tube X-ray AI tool, its StarGuide SPECT/CT scanner, and its recent alliance with Optellum.

Philips’ RSNA MRIs

After two straight solution-centric RSNAs, Philips’ RSNA 2021 booth will be headlined by a pair of new MR systems (plus some MR solutions) and a major focus on operational efficiency.

MR 5300 – The FDA-cleared MR 5300 (1.5T) is Philips’ second helium-free BlueSeal MR scanner, arriving three years after the Ingenia Ambition X, and launching with new AI-powered features intended to automate clinical and operational tasks. Philips also emphasized the image quality advantages of the MR 5300’s 55cm field-of-view and dStream Breeze coils.

MR 7700 – Philips’ forthcoming MR 7700 system (3T) is positioned for both clinical and research use, although its features and messaging largely emphasize its value to researchers. The MR 7700 boasts new multinuclear clinical capabilities, including diffusion imaging and advanced neuroscience sequences, while its XP gradients (65 mT/m) support neuroscience.

MR Workspace – Philips’ new MR Workspace is intended to support technologist productivity, providing a dashboard that automates the planning and execution of many routine scans and supports decision making by suggesting the most suitable Exam Card for each patient. MR Workspace will be included with all new and installed Philips MR scanners. 

Philips SmartSpeed – The SmartSpeed image reconstruction platform is designed to speed up image acquisition and enhance image quality, leveraging Philips’ Compressed SENSE acquisition technique and AI to reconstruct full images from under-sampled data, “while maintaining virtually equivalent image quality.”

The Takeaway – Philips’ MR lineup has been relatively quiet during the last few years, while its main MR competitors made some solid progress (particularly w/ reconstruction, operability, comfort, and low-helium tech). It seems like that won’t be the case at RSNA 2021.

Siemens’ Healthineers Hardware Evolution

Siemens Healthineers’ Shape 22 pre-RSNA event featured a pair of ambitious hardware announcements that stand to expand what can be done with CT exams and where MRIs can be performed.

NAEOTOM Alpha PCCT – Siemens Healthineers confirmed its pole position in the Photon-Counting CT race, officially launching its NAEOTOM Alpha scanner. Although the NAEOTOM Alpha already received a rare marketing head-start from the FDA, this week’s launch begins its official 2022 rollout, and provides new details about this milestone product:

  • Far higher image quality than CT
  • Provides much more imaging data and new levels of CT-based insights
  • Expands CT to new cardiac, oncology, and pulmonology use cases
  • Allows 50% lower radiation dosage, could shift exams to non-contrast
  • Supports Siemens’ core solutions, including operability and AI-based diagnosis
  • Cleared in US and Europe, 20 systems already installed, 8k patients scanned
  • PCCT expected to become the main CT technology within 10 years
  • Siemens is holding another NAEOTOM Alpha event today (Nov. 18)
  • Siemens might be first, but we’re seeing more PCCT activity from GE Healthcare, and Canon and Philips aren’t far behind

MAGNETOM Free.Star MRI – One year after introducing the MRI-expanding MAGNETOM Free.Max, Siemens continued its MRI accessibility push, revealing the “disruptively simple” MAGNETOM Free.Star. The new Free.Star MRI will inherit much of the MAGNETOM Free.Max’s accessibility-friendly qualities (0.55T, small/light, low helium & installation requirements), and will have the ambitious goal of supporting the half of the world’s population that doesn’t have MRI access. The MAGNETOM Free.Star is still early-stage (it hasn’t begun the FDA process), but it’s massive healthcare ambitions make it worth keeping an eye on.

The Takeaway – The NAEOTOM Alpha is expected to be the start of a major shift towards Photon-Counting CT, while the new MAGNETOM Free.Max and Free.Star could expand where MRIs are used. That makes these extremely significant products.

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-- The Imaging Wire team