David Wilson, the director of corporate communications at Hitachi Healthcare Americas, took time to speak with Medical Product Outsourcing about the challenges the company is addressing, how it is utilizing emerging technologies to improve care, as well as the news of an acquisition by FUJIFILM and the opening of an R&D center.
Sean Fenske: With Hitachi’s focus around imaging solutions, can you share what interesting trends you’re seeing happening in that space?
David Wilson: We are seeing a decline in the advances of the actual imaging technologies (for example, number of slices or strength of magnetic field) and more focus on the workflow and analysis of the data being produced. Understanding how to scan patients faster, incorporate data from other sources, and improve the reporting workflows are all areas impacting workflow. The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic as well with the use of AI in positioning patients and analyzing images. One of Hitachi’s areas of focus is on the use of AI to help radiologists improve their reporting workflow.
Another area is the need to improve patient satisfaction. Imaging typically has low satisfaction rates and the need to make improvements here spans everything from the way a patient moves through the system to how comfortable they are when actually having a scan. Ensuring patient satisfaction scores improve has a direct impact on reimbursement.
We also see a shift from medical imaging being performed in hospitals and hospital outpatient centers to private imaging centers at the requests of insurance companies. Both Anthem and Cigna have issued statements indicating that pre-certification requests will be reviewed to ensure patients are directed to an appropriate, free-standing facility when available and when appropriate for the patient’s clinical condition.
Fenske: I understand Hitachi is opening an R&D center in Ohio. Can you explain why the company felt a new facility was needed and what will its research initiatives be centered around?
Wilson: The U.S. is a center for innovation and Northeastern Ohio has a plethora of world-class healthcare providers, vendors, and knowledge experts. The ability to expand our R&D efforts with a local presence is intended to augment the great work being done in Japan and other parts of the world today. Being a global company, it’s important to collaborate with experts from around the world in order to develop the best products for our customers and patients.
The center will be focused on advancing developments in MR [magnetic resonance], CT [computerized tomography], and U/S [ultrasound], and will include how AI and machine learning may be incorporated into imaging technology.
Fenske: You brought up artificial intelligence earlier, which is garnering interest across virtually every segment of healthcare. Can you speak a little more to the impact the technology is making within the imaging space?
Wilson: Healthcare is traditionally slow to adopt technology and, while there is a tremendous amount of work being done in AI, it is still very much in the research stages or in niche areas and has not yet taken an overwhelming position as a key technology. As I mentioned previously, we’re currently seeing the increased use of AI in positioning patients and analyzing images, and also focusing on the use of AI to help radiologists improve their reporting workflow.
Fenske: Can you explain the recent deal that had FUJIFILM acquiring a portion of Hitachi?
Wilson: FUJIFILM’s acquisition of Hitachi’s Diagnostic Imaging Business and part of its Healthcare IT Business will create a unified medical imaging business, bringing together two diverse portfolios to create a single, comprehensive, solution-based business. It builds upon FUJIFILM’s decades of experience in medical IT solutions using PACS and 3D workstations, creating a competitive medical imaging collection of modalities for all areas.
Fenske: What does this mean for current customers and healthcare organizations?
Wilson: This combination will give healthcare providers and partners the opportunity to take advantage of FUJIFILM’s high level of standards and Hitachi’s unique imaging solutions to address their patient’s needs.
The transaction does not require any assignment or transfer of any contracts; it is business as usual for Hitachi and its many clients who should expect to receive the same support from our dedicated and experienced employees.
Fenske: Given the connectivity functionality of today’s imaging systems, how is cybersecurity and data security being addressed within Hitachi’s products?
Wilson: All of Hitachi’s products are tested intensively and follow security protocols and standards as defined by organizations such as the Department of Defense.
Cybersecurity of our medical devices are achieved by maintaining:
- Confidentiality by protecting these devices from unauthorized disclosure
- Integrity by protecting these products from unauthorized modification
- Availability of data by protecting these products from loss of function
The FDA has published two guidance documents related to the management of cybersecurity in medical devices. The first FDA guidance recommends manufacturers integrate risk management into the development of medical devices and provide the FDA with certain documents when they submit for approval. The second FDA guidance recommends manufacturers continually monitor cybersecurity for products already on the market to account for new threats and vulnerabilities. Hitachi makes best efforts to comply with this guidance.
Fenske: Is Hitachi taking advantage of the connectivity of its systems to collect data that enables it to improve future designs or enhance offerings?
Wilson: This is an ongoing area for improvement and we currently collect and monitor data for use by our service engineers. We can identify issues before they become major problems for the customer and dispatch a service engineer to address the issue. This connectivity also enables us to troubleshoot problems remotely before sending someone on site.
We are moving to utilizing this system to also enhance service for customers—both from an analysis of their efficiency and also from a preventative maintenance perspective. Capturing and analyzing the “downtime” between scans and identifying areas for improvement in workflow is essential to our customers. Likewise, predicting when the optimum time for a preventative maintenance event could occur ensures maximum operation of the modalities.
Fenske: Since Hitachi is involved with more industries than just medtech, does the company leverage “lessons learned” from other segments to improve how it serves healthcare?
Wilson: While Hitachi is a very diverse company, many of the “sister” companies collaborate in the healthcare space and leverage the expertise and knowledge across the space. Hitachi Vantara, R&D Group, Performance Controls Inc., and Hitachi Healthcare Americas, for example, collaborate on the development of new healthcare solutions and these companies bring experience from other markets to leverage in the healthcare space. There are routine events whereby these companies come together—be it marketing (branding), R&D, or sales—to collaborate and strive to bring the best solutions to market and leverage the knowledge we all have.
Fenske: We are experiencing a helium shortage, which is an essential component in imaging systems. What is Hitachi doing to try to address this challenge?
Wilson: There is a global shortage of helium (He) with prices jumping 135 percent year on year due to a number of factors impacting delivery and production. The decreased global supply has increased Hitachi’s costs and potentially could reduce the number of units Hitachi Healthcare Americas delivers. Faced with this challenge, Hitachi Healthcare Americas looked for ways to reduce the dependency on helium suppliers through the reduction, reuse, and recycling of He from its operations.
Hitachi Healthcare Americas put together a plan to install a helium liquefier. The team embarked on a very aggressive project to deliver the liquefier system; within one year, it built the largest process chiller we had ever assembled. The system that was built enables He to be captured while staging a magnet; helium is captured during the “quench” of a magnet into a huge balloon structure and is recycled through the liquefier so it can again be used in the next magnet. Pipes running throughout the facility recirculate the He until it is cooled into a liquid once again to be used.
In addition, when a magnet ships, there is a degree of “boil off” or loss of He during the transportation stage. Being able to save this helium impacts a number of areas including costs, delivery and installation time, and He supply. Hitachi Healthcare Americas developed a portable cooling technology to reduce the loss of helium during transport by almost 80 percent, saving even more costs.
Fenske: Sustainability is a growing effort within medtech and healthcare in general. What actions is Hitachi taking within this area?
Wilson: We believe it is important for us at Hitachi to re-embrace our mission: Contribute to society through the development of superior, original technology and products. As a global leader with business operations worldwide, we believe it is our mission to contribute to the resolution of social issues and achievement of the SDGs [sustainable development goals] by accelerating our Social Innovation Business.
Our 2021 Mid-term Management Plan, announced in May 2019, outlines our aim to help bring about a sustainable society through our global leadership in the Social Innovation Business, simultaneously increasing social, environmental, and economic value; improving people’s quality of life; and enhancing value for our customers. We seek to improve people’s lives by providing intelligent social infrastructure globally through our digital solutions. The sources of our strength in these areas are our operational technology (OT) and our IT skills honed over the past 50 years. We can contribute to the solution of various problems facing society with our OT, IT, and high-quality products.
Among the issues facing contemporary society, climate change is regarded as one of the most important, as reflected in the goal set in our Mid-term Management Plan of raising environmental value. Roughly 90 percent of CO2 emissions from Hitachi’s value chain come from the use of our products and services. Thus, we have a responsibility to help achieve a low-carbon society by prioritizing our decarbonization business, which seeks to provide more value to customers and society while using less energy.
Our newest CT product, Scenaria View, aims to lower costs of operating by employing a power-saving Eco Mode function during standby and night.