VIENNA, Austria – Obesity is no longer a uniquely North American problem, according to the president of the European Radiology Society, Maximilian Reiser, as he reviewed key trends affecting the industry during a press conference at the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), ended earlier this week.

To respond to the challenges presented by what it terms the “technically difficult” patient, Royal Philips Electronics (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) introduced the newest version in its HD family of products, the HD7, which features a new transducer capable of penetrating deeper into the body.

Ironically, the new HD7 is not yet approved for use in the largest market for “super-sized” obesity, the U.S.

Jim Walchenbach, global market manager for ultrasound with Philips, told Medical Device Daily that obesity is a huge issue for ultrasound, as “you simply cannot get an image from these patients using conventional equipment.”

Among the challenges presented by obese patients are sonographer injuries caused by continual pushing of the probe into the patient’s flesh in an effort to get closer enough to the targeted organ to acquire an image.

Injuries of clinical staff are significant enough that the problem was included as a criterion for measuring system effectiveness in a study of the technically difficult patient conducted by Philips at six sites, four in the U.S. and two in Europe. The study found clinics reporting from 25% to 50% of abdominal exams are for large patients who present challenges of longer exam times and resulting in less-definitive diagnosis.

There is always a trade-off in ultrasound between penetration and image quality, noted Walchenbach, who said the Philips C5-1 transducer, a term referring to its sending and receiving 5-to-1 megahertz signals from a curved array, balances the required penetration for oversized patients with good-quality resolution.

“The fact that we are going that deep and showing such high quality images is the reason this demonstration is drawing such crowds,” he said, looking out toward the semi-circle of radiologists blocking the exhibition hall aisles as they watched the real-time imaging going on at his company’s booth.

Philips hired a world-champion sumo wrestler, weighing in at a hefty 374 pounds, for the hourly demonstrations. Wrapped in a blue silk robe rather than (thankfully) standard sumo attire, he alternated on the exam table with a slimmer model to show that the HD7 can also be used for scanning traditional patients.

The transducer is based on a pure-wave, single crystal, boosted with aberration correction and coded beam-forming technologies to capture and preserve more tissue information than conventional narrowband systems.

The system provides both gray scale and color Doppler imaging and applies the tissue harmonic imaging licensed by Philips.

HD7 fits into the “affordable” slot in the Philips HD family of products between the the higher-end HD11 and the lower-end HD3.

The new unit is promoted as a workhorse performer with what Walchenbach called the highest versatility in its class of mid-range ultrasound systems. “It is going to do well in both mature markets and high-potential emerging markets, such as India, China and Brazil,” he said.

“Ease of use is heavily programmed into this product with a simplified interface and one-button programming for routine tasks, all of which aims at maximizing patient throughput, an increasingly critical determinant for radiology departments,” Walchenbach added.

HD7 is targeted at just about any ultrasound application in cardiovascular, ob/gyn, regional anesthesiology, women’s health, oncology, electrophysiology, stress-echo, pediatric, orthopedic and urologic.

In other news from the conference:

An unexpected appearance at the meeting was made by Apple (Cupertino, California), which teamed up with display manufacturer Totoku (Neuss, Germany) to demonstrate the Mac Pro 8-Core workstation for medical imaging with improved processing, graphics and storage capacity.

Using the 64-bit version of OsiriX, an open-source picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) workstation viewer software, Totoku linked the combined suite of information processing to two 21.3”, 5-megapixel diagnostic displays for a multi-modality digital mammography demonstration.

The combined products are promoted as a cost-effective response to the demand for high-performance, advanced radiology applications, with a price tag of €17,500 ($26,600).

However, buying into the package requires moving off the mainstream Windows platform that dominates radiology clinics. While that is true, said a Totoku manager, “At least with open source you get the software for free.”

Will Adair, MD, a radiologist at the Leicester Royal Infirmary in the UK, explained that advanced medical image analysis requires loading and viewing very large datasets, a capability so far available only through a limited number of dedicated work stations using expensive, proprietary software.

A fan of OsiriX for its ability to display the complexity on his MacBook, Adair said the combined OsiriX and Mac proposition shown at ECR 2008 suggests “the potential to completely change the way we work by providing easy access to affordable, commercial-level image processing solutions with exceptional three- and even four-dimension capabilities.”

Osman Ratib, professor and chairman of the department of radiology and head of the division of nuclear medicine at University Hospital (Geneva, Switzerland), said, “Fully leveraging the Leopard operating system and the Mac user interface, the OsiriX program offers functionality comparable to, or better than, the most advanced scanner consoles on the market.”

• Barco (Kortrijk, Belgium) reported that a Spanish company, RED.ES, has ordered a record number of its Coronis diagnostic display systems in an order that it valued at €4 million ($6 million).

The displays will be used for the introduction and development of PACS in hospitals across Spain in partnership with Telefonica Soluciones (Madrid), which is responsible for the delivery and installation.