General Electric Co. (GE:US) is unveiling magnetic resonance imaging technology to damp the volume on the notoriously noisy machines to no louder than a whisper from levels rivaling rock concerts.
“The exam will be silent, basically, as opposed to having all the clanging noises,” Tom Gentile, chief executive officer of GE’s health-care systems division, said in a telephone interview. “That should substantially improve the patient experience.”
MRI equipment can generate a din exceeding 110 decibels as it creates a magnetic field and radio waves to peer inside the human body, Gentile said. Instead of just adding insulation to mute the sound, GE’s new approach changes the fields more slowly and uses software to build a complete image.
The technology was introduced today in Chicago at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting. GE, the world’s biggest maker of medical imaging gear, also is showcasing enhanced software for three-dimensional image viewing and its acquisition of a manufacturer of ultrasound scanners for breast-cancer screening.
GE is confronting a slowdown in medical-equipment purchases as slack demand in the U.S. and Europe tempers growth in emerging markets. MRI orders fell 9 percent in the third quarter, Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin said in an Oct. 19 conference call with analysts.
GE’s health-care unit generated $18.1 billion in revenue (GE:US) for the Fairfield, Connecticut-based parent company last year. Gentile said GE spends about $1 billion annually on research and development in the field.
The new MRI technology will help boost sales of scanners to hospitals seeking to attract patients who want to avoid the noise historically associated with the tests, Gentile said. The device is awaiting clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and isn’t yet available for sale, GE said.
“It’s pretty neat,” said General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who recalled undergoing an MRI scan once that was so loud that he told technicians he thought the machine was broken. “You can now have a conversation while the MR scan is going.”
GE competes with companies including Munich-based Siemens AG (SIE) and Tokyo-based Toshiba Corp. (6502) to sell MRI equipment and other diagnostic devices.
The cancer-screening acquisition is U-Systems Inc., which GE agreed to buy on Nov. 9 without giving financial terms. The company makes ultrasound scanners designed to complement traditional mammograms, which use X-rays, by helping spot previously undetectable cancers in some women, according to GE.
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