The ability for all people to attain their full health potential through the elimination of disparities in health and healthcare continues to be a challenge worldwide. Limited or no access to care is one of the primary factors related to health disparities, which are often caused by socially determined circumstances and can result in poor patient outcomes. When patients are disadvantaged from achieving their full health potential, health inequities are reflected in differences in length of life, quality of life, rates of disease, disability, and death; severity of disease, and access to treatment.
The inability to access important components in the care path, such as medical imaging, can have a dramatic effect on health outcomes. Advances in medical imaging have greatly improved the accuracy of screenings for disease and aid clinicians in diagnosing diseases earlier. Without these advances, it would be challenging to detect these diseases until they reached a much more life-threatening stage. Despite its importance in the care pathway, many patients have insufficient access to medical imaging for a variety of reasons.
Realizing the gap in imaging access
Medical imaging strongly contributes to establishing accurate and timely diagnoses, informs and guides treatment decisions, and contributes to improving treatment outcomes. But approximately two-thirds of the world's population has no access to diagnostic imaging. Additionally, a recent study highlighted a huge shortage of imaging equipment in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). For instance, there is less than one computed tomography (CT) scanner per million inhabitants in LMICs, compared to nearly 40 scanners per million inhabitants in high-income countries (HICs). The gap is even wider for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear medicine equipment.
As health disparities became further apparent during the COVID-19 global health crisis, focused efforts were initiated by clinicians and leaders from across the healthcare industry to enlist support for global health equity and help remove barriers to care. New initiatives from pharmaceutical organizations, insurance providers, and medical imaging and technology manufacturers promote increased awareness, build patient and provider support programs, help improve accessibility, and generate more mindful innovation.
As a leader in the medical imaging industry, GE Healthcare is strongly committed to helping to reduce disparities in care and improving access to medical imaging worldwide.
“We believe access to medical imaging should be a basic right of every patient,” said Andrew DeLaO, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for GE Healthcare. “We’re not only working with partner organizations, clinicians, and customers to bring awareness to help break down barriers to care, we’re also innovating our imaging solutions to broaden availability and increase clinical diagnostic capabilities.”
Imaging access for more patients, when and where they need it
In HICs, the care delivery model is more decentralized, and today’s patients are more involved in their own healthcare. They are demanding faster, better, and more affordable access to high-quality imaging services. Accelerated by the global pandemic, patient safety, fear, and resource scarcity evolved healthcare innovations in patient communications, virtual office visits, and remote work opportunities in healthcare. As a result, patients are seeking care in non-traditional care settings. Improving patient access means providing care when and where the patient seeks care, and at every stage in their care journey.
“Innovations in advanced imaging technology are making headway in improving access to care,” explained DeLaO. “Community hospitals can be equipped with some of the same clinical capabilities as advanced academic facilities, helping to democratize care.”
With workforce education tools and remote training, as well as distributed imaging and protocol management, remote facilities are able to provide high-quality imaging services, and patients can benefit regardless of where they seek care. Leveraging digitalization and cloud-based solutions, imaging innovations can be more accessible and scalable.
In LMICs, such as India, a major proportion of the population lives in rural areas. However, the majority of health facilities are concentrated in select large cities. Advanced medical imaging systems are needed to focus on the early diagnosis of non-communicable or chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. One of GE Healthcare’s advanced CT systems is manufactured in India, strengthening access across India, including more rural locations.
The care delivery model in radiology has also fundamentally shifted to be more decentralized, enabling more remote reads and teleradiology. Advanced visualization and image processing capabilities are made more accessible with cloud-based, distributed solutions that support remote accessibility and collaboration.
Reducing barriers to care
Breaking through barriers to care is a critical focus, including medical imaging. Eliminating health disparities that exist in breast care, for example, is an urgent priority around the globe. On a global scale, the number of cases of breast cancer is generally higher in high-income countries, but women have a much greater risk of dying from this disease in LMICs due to late diagnosis and limited access to treatment and care. In the US, black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.
Pursuing health equity in breast care is a commitment to strive for the highest possible standard of health for all people, giving special attention to the needs of those at greatest risk. Whether it’s improving access to care, removing social determinants, sharing scientific information across the globe, or rethinking patient communications by removing the barriers that exist in women’s health, clinicians believe that patient outcomes can be improved. Disparities in breast health show alarming differences among populations and demographics, such as incidence, survival, and mortality rates between social and ethnic groups.
The length of time between a positive screening mammogram and follow-up care in the US, for example, can average 26 to 43 days. These delays can be due to scheduling issues, healthcare access, or physician referrals, to name a few examples, but the longer the delay, the more advanced breast cancer can become. Delayed follow-up after a positive screening mammogram has been associated with larger tumor size at diagnosis.
Innovative approaches such as the One-stop Clinic™ are improving access to breast care for women. This solution optimizes care delivery with a powerful suite of innovative technologies, allowing patients to go from screening to biopsy on the same device in the same room. It helps save patients from having to return for yet another appointment.
Designed to put the patient at the center, this multi-modality approach provides patients with a coordinated journey from the initial appointment through diagnosis and treatment plan in one location and with one team – all in a significantly shorter timeframe. The One-Stop Clinic prioritizes shorter time to diagnosis and treatment within a well-coordinated and guided patient journey.
Leveraging artificial intelligence to democratize medical imaging
Digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) are part of an era-defining reality in today’s healthcare environment that is already having an impact on increasing access to care. AI applications in medical imaging are supporting clinicians with fast, accurate, and precise clinical information to inform evaluations, diagnoses, and treatments. AI’s introduction into the healthcare space is especially important, where it can assist local technologists and clinicians with clinical decision support, remote reading, and collaboration capabilities for complex cases.
Implementing a cloud-based healthcare digital platform to support these solutions, for example, is flexible enough to be effective in any environment, from the large enterprise health system to smaller sites or in developing countries, where even though all sites may not have access to a large infrastructure, patients still need the same quality of care. As the pace of innovation increases, providers can adopt new AI-based solutions and innovations more quickly and seamlessly integrate them into their existing clinical workflows. With future developments, refinements and validation, AI solutions will have a considerable impact on imaging in LMICs.
Enabling hardware and software upgrades to existing installed imaging systems is another way to improve access to the latest clinical imaging capabilities without the need to invest in new equipment. However, the growth of on-device AI solutions is also expanding, integrating AI into equipment design, throughout the clinical workflow, and across the enterprise.
Creating new possibilities for healthcare across care pathways
Improving access to care and advancing health equity continues to be a priority around the globe. The combination of the healthcare industry’s efforts in these areas with growing innovations in AI and advanced imaging technology is a fortuitous opportunity to deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time and place, delivering precision diagnostics and progressing the goal of health equity for all. GE Healthcare is committed to helping to improve access to medical imaging, driving awareness, and creating solutions that can help break through barriers to increase access for more patients, when and where they need it.
Not all products or features are available in all geographies. Check with your local GE Healthcare representative for availability in your country.
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