Holography: The next big thing in medical imaging
Holography is a hot topic in the technology sector, with many start-ups already demonstrating its potential use in telecommunications and entertainment. Yet it could have far-reaching impacts in other industries too, most notably the medical imaging market.
Holography is a technique enabling generation of 3D images that change as the position of the viewer changes, in the same way as if the object were actually present. A collaboration between imaging system vendor Philips Healthcare and holographic start-up RealView Imaging offers a glimpse into the technology's potential application in medical imaging. Admittedly, the system has been trialed only on small patient volumes in one hospital, but it is unique in terms of implication and timing.
In context, innovation in the medical imaging market has been slow in the past five years, dogged by falling demand for cutting-edge technology from recession-weary markets in North America and Western Europe. Most new product releases have focused on one critical factor for healthcare: cost. This has resulted in a new generation of highly efficient, cross-application, low-cost imaging devices. While this is no bad thing for cash-strapped healthcare providers, the scramble to offer cost-effective solutions has stifled development of new technology and product innovation.
That may change, as trials have demonstrated how 3D images collected from an interventional X-ray system (provided by Philips Healthcare) and a "holographic video projector" (provided by RealView) produce a holographic video stream of the targeted anatomical structure. This allows physicians to view the organ from multiple angles and manipulate the holographic stream during a procedure, for example to test the fit of an implantable or guide-wire within the structure.
In principle, this development will have major implications for how surgical procedures are planned and conducted, as well as offer an entirely new field for diagnosis using holographic technology. Moreover, it serves as a reminder to the cost-conscious healthcare industry of the importance of investing and collaborating with new technology start-ups.
The IHS forecast for the medical imaging market predicts an average annual revenue growth of 3.5% between 2012 and 2017, mostly driven by demand from emerging cost-sensitive markets (see figure above). While it is undoubtedly too early for holographic technology to impact this trend, it is expected to have a significant impact in the long term. For this to happen, however, vendors of holographic systems will need to adapt to the paradigm shift in healthcare provision and focus on answering four questions all health providers are sure to ask:
- Will it improve clinical outcomes and patient care?
- Will it improve procedural efficiency?
- Will it save money in the long run?
- How much does it cost?