David Fast is regional president, North America and VP/CFO/COO of Agfa HealthCare of Morsel, Belgium.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I joined Agfa HealthCare 11 years ago as the North American CFO. After a couple of years, my role was expanded to cover the CFO role for our Latin American business. I spent a couple of years supporting them, then refined it back to North America and added the COO title to the North American operations. For a few years, I was doing CFO/COO for Agfa HealthCare IT in North America. Just over 12 months ago, I assumed the role of president of the North American region.
How much of the company’s focus involves imaging?
Our customer base is still very much radiology imaging, but customers have been asking us to expand our expertise to help manage all imaging across the enterprise. There are actually over 70 service lines in a typical health network that produce medically required images. Managing all that imaging data is a huge and costly undertaking for CIOs and their IT departments. Our new enterprise imaging platform is designed to reduce complexity throughout all image producing service lines or “ologies” if you will. Our goal is to provide the complete patient imaging record in a health system’s EHR, whether the images come from radiology, cardiology, point of care imaging such as ultrasound, surgery, or wherever medical imaging contributes to the care plan.
Consensus seems to be that artificial intelligence will support rather than replace the clinicians who interpret images. Will the workflow component be the key element?
I would say so. We prefer to use the term augmented intelligence, as our focus is to assist clinicians in making informed decisions, not to replace them.
And, you are absolutely correct: Workflow will be key since the technology will only be useful if it becomes part of the clinician’s routine. We have people focused on augmented intelligence, most recently in the mammography area, where our customers have found that the technology can assist and aid the clinicians in making better decisions earlier on in analysis of these images, which can be complex to read. We think it will augment rather than replace the kind of care they can give.
What level of integration exists between imaging and imaging workflows and the EHR?
The whole industry is evolving for sure and this has been a key focus area for Agfa. We find our enterprise imaging solution must be connected to the EHR in each subspecialty are in order to maximize the benefit for the clinician and ultimately the patient. Our technical teams routinely work with the major EHR vendors on integrations that either we or healthcare providers ask for.
How will patients carrying their own images on CDs from one provider to another be replaced with more sophisticated imaging interoperability?
We have a solution today called Engage Suite that addresses just that issue. It is quite typical, unfortunately, for a patient to get a CD from a small imaging clinic and then have to run across town or across state to bring that image to another viewing physician in order to receive timely care.
Engage Suite is an interface with our enterprise imaging platform that facilities connections to various venues, such as remote clinics or big hospital groups. They can exchange images, view, archive, and move them around electronically. There’s no more need for CD burning and running the CD across town. We see the ubiquitous sharing of medical images as a differentiator.
Do use cases exist for using imaging and related information in population health?
I would say so. For the most part, we still see imaging in a traditional sense of being imaged by professional technicians in order to advise a diagnosis. But more and more you’re seeing that both physicians and patients, as with people in general, are using their cell phones to take pictures and send them in. That will broaden the horizon of how we address patient care. It’s at the early stage but will evolve. We call these medical selfies and they can contribute to an increase in patient engagement and satisfaction in their care.
What do radiologists see as their most pressing challenges and their greatest opportunity?
There’s a lot of consolidation going on in the industry. From that perspective, institutions are looking for the ability to have systems that can not only be enterprise-wide from a facility perspective, but that are also scalable and sustainable when it comes to their acquisitions. From the radiologist’s s perspective, they want to be able to retrieve images quickly from wherever they came from and have the best view of that image on their screens as quickly as possible.
We have a good solution in terms of our universal viewers and the whole workflow piece that you mentioned earlier. That is critical when it comes to the radiologist being more efficient. Getting more done more quickly and more accurately is the name of the game in healthcare today.
Are radiologists prone to burnout from the time and accuracy pressures? How do the technologies they use impact their stress levels?
It’s dependent on the individual, but the focus of radiologists is productivity. They define their success in being able to read images quickly, but also effectively, so that they’re giving patients the best care possible. But at the same time, it’s disheartening for them when their systems create delays.
The key for our environment is that we make them more efficient, not less efficient. That means having a system that is responsive and very quick, with viewing and reporting capability. They are constantly demanding systems that will make them more effective and more efficient and our job is to help them do that.
What will be the most impactful changes in the next five to 10 years?
We had the vision of this enterprise-wide solution a few years back. We were primarily a radiology PACS company, so we were primarily supporting the radiology department. We had a cardiology solution as well, but now that we have this enterprise-wide solution, we’re just scratching the surface. It’s mind-blowing to think of how much we could get done in adding other service lines and anything related to imaging that happens in a healthcare system and what that would do for patient care.
Radiology and cardiology are probably still the biggest imaging departments that are touched in one system. But as we go forward over the next two or three years, forget about five to 10 years, the whole platform of enterprise-wide imaging solutions is going to take off dramatically. You’re going to see a very different world not too long from now, less than five years away.
Do you have any final thoughts?
We have a fantastic opportunity and a good future in front of us to truly contribute to reducing total cost of ownership of imaging systems and reducing complexity in health IT. Our solution and the technology that we have developed is getting to maturity. We are doing a lot of terrific work in our labs and development centers on value-adds to that platform. I see a huge potential, particularly here in North America, the area that I oversee. Agfa HealthCare is a Belgian company, but we have very much turned our focus on the North American market, and with that will come additional investment that will drive the results and our market share here in North America.