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“Technological Advances taking place in Ultrasound are Unbelievable”

As the diagnostic capabilities of ultrasound technology continues to grow beyond imagination, equipment manufacturers are bringing out state-of-the-art products. In India, Philips Healthcare has taken the lead in offering Radiologists ultrasound machines that are second to none

Conrad H Smits, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Philips Ultrasound, in a candid conversation with Divya Chawla, shares a complete low-down on Philips’ ultrasound business

How do you see the developments in ultrasound technology over the years?

Currently, the two most important modalities in healthcare are Ultrasound and MRI. Somebody termed the MRI as the rich man’s ultrasound. Conversely, ultrasound is the poor man’s MRI. Both of them are radiation free and are growing fast.

Ultrasound has been around for many years and is now seeing resurgence to a number of reasons. The technological advances that are taking place in ultrasound are unbelievable—for instance Philips’ xMatrix technology and ClearVue. Ultrasound has been playing a very interesting role in healthcare across the globe. In India it is because of the development of pressure on healthcare costs. In the US, it is because of the amount of money being spent on healthcare and in Europe, because of the rising healthcare pressure. Further, there is tremendous growth of emerging markets.

The first responder technology like ultrasound plays an important role in emergency situations. In past, ultrasound was a domain of radiology limited to obstetrics/gynaecology. It was a technology that was operator dependent and needed trained manpower, for manipulating the transducer and reading the images. However, technological advancements make ultrasound much more accessible to other departments including anesthesiology, emergency care, critical care, traditional radiology, women’s healthcare, and so on. There is a proliferation of use of ultrasound across the globe. Ultrasound is addressing the demand for better clinical results, more patient access and more affordable healthcare.

Compared to the developed world, is the Indian ultrasound market making enough progress?

The pressures and the market demands are same in the US and India. If there is a larger demand or larger patient population that needs to be addressed in India, there are 40 million uninsured people in the North America. Echocardiography is growing in India and in North America and Europe. An ultrasound is an interesting modality that can fulfil the demands of emerging markets, as well as, very mature markets, because of the changing trends.

Despite the technological advancements, black and white ultrasound systems continue to account for a major market share in India. What are your views on this?

I think India is one of the most competitive healthcare markets in the world. There are many markets that rely on insurance or government involvement, but India is virtually a private market. Black and white ultrasound systems used to be the best possible imaging solutions earlier. However, gradually they will fade out and more technologically advanced systems will takeover, because clinicians will realise that they can give better services to their patients at better economic value with the newer systems.

What are the roadblocks that impede the growth of the ultrasound market? What are Philips’ strategies for overcoming these challenges?

Lack of training and education is the major reason for limited use of ultrasound in India, as well as North America. Since the technique is operator dependent, it requires skilled workforce for scanning. There is a need of systems with high level algorithms that understand the anatomy of a body, thereby helping the sonographers in making decisions.  Anatomical intelligence is one of the areas that Philips is focusing on, together with bringing in high-end technologies. It is fascinating to see how Philips’ ClearVue system performs.

Can you tell us more about the ClearVue systems that Philips has recently launched?

ClearVue was developed in India for India. We realised that if we want to be relevant in the Indian market, we have to develop in India and with Indians in a different way than what we have done in other parts of the world. The technologies can be developed there and these can eventually trickle through the Indian market as well. There is an interesting convergence of development waves that will benefit India, both in the high-end and lower end segments. We want to participate in the growth of emerging markets by using high-end technologies and delivering better clinical results. The ultrasound business in ClearVue has been able to bring extremely high-end technology into transducers.

Do you think ultrasound can replace the stethoscope?

Somewhere in 1988, an article was written of ultrasound replacing the stethoscope. Today, I believe the biggest competitor for ultrasound is the stethoscope. If we want to truly help the Indian environment, we have to look beyond the boundaries. We are all visually oriented and play with iPads, etc., then why are we still checking the health of human body with our ears! Doctors need visual equipment as well and that’s where we need to focus and make a breakthrough.

What are Philips’ future plans for ultrasound? What products are in the pipeline?

In future, the ultrasound machines will definitely get smaller, but we have to ensure that smaller means better. While we are going in the future, bringing better clinical solutions that are more patient and operator friendly with better economic value and outputs is important.

Philips Healthcare is looking at clinical benefits, patient benefits and economical offerings. We want to bring solutions such as Ingenia MRI that brings significant clinical benefits better economic value because of the throughput.

If a machine has to bring better clinical value, it has to be less operator-dependent. Philips Imaging Systems, such as CT, MR, ultrasound and DXR, are all focusing on these pillars to bring better healthcare to the populations around the world.

In future, the ultrasound machines will definitely get smaller, but we have to ensure that smaller means better. While we are going in the future, bringing better clinical solutions that are more patient and operator friendly with better economic value and outputs is important

I think, Philips has, without doubt the best echocardiography equipment in the world. XMatrix technology allows real time imaging, where a surgeon can replace a heart valve with real time imaging without radiation or any patient issues. Our IU systems bring the highest level of performance for body imaging, breast imaging, etc. The machine fits academic hospitals, private hospitals, regional hospitals and nursing centres.

ClearVue is a product that brings better healthcare at more affordable costs because of its high-end technology.

What is Philips’ USP that sets it apart from others in the same business?

If there is one word that can be used to describe Philips, it is people-focus—whether it is towards our patients, clinicians or for the organisation, on the whole. We have a people focus in business – we are for people, by people and of people – and that is what sets Philips apart. The people in Philips bring extremely oriented towards using high-end technology to make healthcare better and more accessible.

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