|G. Wayne Moore|
For nearly 12 years, Sonora Medical Systems, Longmont, Colo, has offered products and services that help extend the life of medical equipment, boost its efficiency, and cut ownership costs. Certified to ISO 9001 and EN ISO 13485, the company recently enhanced its depot-level repairs for Siemens Symphony and Harmony MRI scanners and was awarded its eighth US patent. The company has also received a patent for the Nickel, a handheld ultrasound probe and system-testing device. In December, the company forged a partnership with a local community college system that awards college credit for the company’s service training classes. In the past few years, the company has trained more than 200 biomedical equipment technicians and clinical engineers. 24×7 recently spoke with the company’s president and CEO, G. Wayne Moore, about its niche in the marketplace and the state of the industry.
24×7: Sonora has been in business for almost 12 years. Where is the company headed in the next 5 years?
Moore: We are vigorously pursuing the creation of technologies that empower biomedical engineering professionals to adequately test and verify the safety, specification claims, and clinical efficacy of medical imaging devices, especially related to diagnostic ultrasound and MRI.
24×7: What sets Sonora apart from other companies?
Moore: We are the only aftermarket company focused on both the creation of novel testing and analysis technology where none has previously existed, as well as the application and integration of that technology into the hospital environment. Sonora is an active member of the Medical Imaging Technology Alliance, which is a division of the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association. In this organization, Sonora takes leadership roles on committees that address and develop current, as well as future, medical imaging regulatory requirements. We use the devices we develop, such as FirstCall, in our own probe testing and repair operations.
24×7: How does the FirstCall test system analyze each element in transducer arrays to spot malfunctions before they affect images?
Moore: The system acts basically like the front end of an ultrasound system in that it transmits to each element (crystal) within an array, causing that element to emit an acoustic pulse, which is then transmitted to a reflective target. The returning echo is detected by the crystal, and the reflected signal is then analyzed by the system. The system looks at the primary indices of performance contained within the acoustic signature of the returning signal—such as sensitivity, fractional bandwidth, center frequency, and the –20dB pulse width. By comparing the results of those indices against those from a new in-kind probe, one can spot any deltas in performance early on in the affected probe.
24×7: How does your reward point system work?
Moore: Our reward program was established to encourage hospitals to take advantage of the savings that can be realized through an active probe repair program. By allowing the reward program points to be used to acquire the company’s unique probe testing devices, biomedical engineers can then obtain these devices without impacting a capital equipment budget—so the hospital wins by lowering their costs associated with probes, and the biomedical department wins by obtaining valuable test devices.
24×7: Your company’s patents are proof of your creative drive. What spurred you to design devices?
Moore: I have been involved in the diagnostic ultrasound market for my entire 25-plus years. I have seen the level of technological sophistication of the ultrasound systems and probes increase by orders of magnitude without a corresponding rise in the ability to accurately test and validate these devices. Further, the clinical use of ultrasound during that time frame has shifted from being a qualitative modality (asking, is disease present?) to a quantitative modality (asking, how much disease is present?). This shift demanded that data coming from the ultrasound system be verified as accurate. My goal in starting the company was to focus my experience on this market in creating these new test devices.
24×7: Many of our readers have expressed interest in designing or modifying devices; could you include some tips for them and hazards to avoid?
Moore: If you think you have a good idea that will solve a pressing issue related to either patient safety or improving or validating the clinical efficacy of a device, then the best first step is to ask a trusted friend or advisor in the industry what their opinion is—concerning both your proposed solution as well as the magnitude of the problem you will be solving. Too often in product development, solutions go in search of problems, rather than the other way around. Also remember that design is often an iterative process—so do not get discouraged if your first, second, or third attempt is not successful. Press on.
24×7: What trends are emerging on the horizon in the way hospitals use equipment?
Moore: With respect to ultrasound, we continue to see the migration of this technology into virtually every department within the hospital, especially being driven by the handheld ultrasound units from SonoSite and others.
24×7: What are biomeds going to need to know in the future that they may not know now?
Moore: There is occurring now, and will continue to occur, the convergence of IT and medical imaging technology. Biomedical engineering professionals will need to be very conversant in the IT world to remain in front of this convergence.
24×7: How are digital and wireless technologies affecting the medical devices you are repairing?
Moore: For the most part, probes are still analog-centric, especially the piezo-electric blocks. There is currently a good deal of work being done with capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducers probe technology, which will push probe technology into the digital domain. But this is still years away from widespread commercialization.
24×7: What else do you see changing in the biomedical industry in the next few years?
Moore: I see biomedical engineers becoming increasingly valuable to hospitals as a core source of internal technological expertise. I see them working ever more closely with both clinicians and IT personnel as the medical imaging and IT technologies become increasingly interdependent.
24×7: What are you aware of that biomeds need to know to stay viable?
Moore: Get out in front of both the medical imaging and IT technology curve. Take on the mantle of technological leadership within their respective hospitals.
24×7: Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Moore: With technology continuing to change at such a rapid pace, I believe all of us involved in this market need to continually update our technical as well as business skills in order to remain relevant in the medical field.
Judy O’Rourke is associate editor of 24×7. Contact her at .