Friday, June 22, 2018

Siemens Healthineers launches new Acuson Sequoia ultrasound

I just returned from the launch of the new Seimens Acuson Sequoia event in Seattle held June 21, 2018 Chihuly Glass House.

Read Business Wire article for the details for different specs. Some of my favorite features are:

  • TeamPlay: the analytic software gathers real-time data on time for scanning, utilization, tech's info, location, etc.  There is a Dashboard with Key Performance Parameters and you can see patterns and trends across technologists and modalities across time and system!! It's like Montage for technologists and modalities so you can see easily monitor and track performance and outliers. Seems like an outstanding business intelligence tool to have for a department to assess the machine and human resource use and for quality improvement.
  • Contrast-enhanced ultrasound: Seimens developed a  new transducer DAX (deep abdominal transducer) which can examine the entire depth of the organ even in large patients; with CEUS, you can see up twice as deep compared to the standard ultrasound system. I think this will be useful for image-guided procedures to bring out the conspicuity of lesions during ablations and biopsy so you get more accurate targeting. 
  • The new US system is user-friendly and more intuitive. It reminds me of the iPad compared to older tablets. For example, to activate the transducer, you tap on it twice (it's touch sensitive) rather than push multiple buttons on the keyboard/screens to change transducers.
  • The images seem better quality but I'm not sure there is actual data to support or refute this but I'm sure it'll just be a matter of time before this data comes to light. Hopefully, the improved image quality will reduce the variability that I see across varying degrees of sonographers' quality. 
What was most interesting about the event was to meet the developers behind the scenes. The event consisted of mostly Siemens ultrasound team (software and hardware developers, engineers, physicists, sales/marketing, etc). Apparently, over 3000 components are in this system supplied from over 200 vendors. The headquarter is in Issaquah, Washington but a lot of the development has taken place also in Mountain View, Ca and South Korea.  A consistent comment I heard from the developers was their pleasant surprise at the finished product and the small but critical part each of them played in the new system.  There was a lot of excitement and energy for this new system, not seen before by current employees that have been in the company >10 years.   I don't know how many people partook in the development but a lot of hours, brains, and human and financial resources clearly went into the final product. It was fun to watch all of their hard work, passion, and vision come to fruition.

Interesting fact I learned was that Siemens Healthineers is investing about 15% of its net worth (valued at >$20 billion) in ultrasound sector and so are very serious about the ultrasound market.

Downsides?  My guess is that the price tag will be high. Just as the release of the original Acouson by Dr. Sam Maslak (original founder and engineer behind Acouson) in the 1980s had a high price tag due to its incomparable technology, I imagine the same will occur with the new Acouson Sequoia. One of the features it boasts is the modular component of the system; the entire system does not need to be replaced just like we need to do for the MRI system. In fact, each outdated piece can be updated as new items are released.  I imagine most of the technology will be in the software updates, just as similar trends have been seen on other disruptive companies. To drive sales, my sense is that the quality of the images and improved efficiency with workflow will become the edge that will convert potential customers to their products.

Another limitation is the lack of data to support claims of improved workflow efficiency and image quality.  But they are in the process of having a third party assess some of these metrics.

A third limitation is the lack of automated support tools for radiologists. Just last month at Los Angeles Radiological Society (LARS), Samsung displayed their AI-driven thyroid and breast module which pre-populated TI-RADS based imaging features and size (I tweeted about it during the meeting). It would be great to have these tools assist techs and radiologists.

But despite these limitations, it seems Siemens is determined to develop cutting-edge, top of the line Ultrasound systems as they have done in MRI market.  It seems like the new Acuson Sequoia is just the beginning though. I'm sure it's a matter of time before Siemens develops add on software features / updates to address these limitations and deliver additional packages such as US guided procedure package (ie prostate) among other things they probably have in mind. 

It's an exciting time to be in ultrasound. 

(Disclosure: I have no financial interest in Siemens. As a full disclosure, Seimens did pay for my flight and one-night hotel stay to attend the event. I am not a consultant nor do I receive funding from Siemens.)

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