Gustavo Perez

The future of C-arms

June 11, 2019
By Gustavo Perez

For over half a century, if clinicians wanted to see inside a patient during a procedure, they had to work with a bulky X-Ray system, capturing images from a single angle. All that changed in 1955, when engineers unveiled a mobile X-ray shaped like a half-moon and designed to move around the patient. This invention was called the “C-arm” and it transformed diagnostic imaging by empowering clinicians to image patients more effectively and efficiently, especially while in the operating room (OR).

Since then, C-arm imaging technology has continuously evolved, growing more powerful and valuable to the clinicians who use it. In just 60 years, the C-arm went from invention to being installed in thousands of hospitals and clinics worldwide and used in hundreds of thousands of procedures a day. Today, a mobile C-arm is as ubiquitous in surgical settings as latex gloves and surgical masks. With high image quality and surgical flexibility, it enables surgeons to perform a diverse range of procedures from pinning the smallest hairline fracture in the hand, to stenting a major artery during a minimally-invasive vascular surgery.

As we look to the future, the C-arm has an opportunity to become one of the most valuable tools in the hospital by alleviating healthcare’s biggest pain points. Here are three major challenges the next generation of C-arms can help overcome:

Improving surgical flexibility, mobility and integration
Now more than ever before, hospitals and clinics need to find ways to increase patient caseloads while decreasing dollars spent. Moreover, they must be adaptive, tailoring to healthcare trends like the growing demand for minimally-invasive procedures or surgery in outpatient settings.

To do this, flexible and versatile technology is key. One of the greatest advantages of a C-arm is its ability to handle a variety of procedures, including vascular, orthopedic, and gastro-intestinal as well as move quickly from room to room if necessary. As health systems continuously evolve, lean design and adaptable technology found in C-arms will grow increasingly critical.

Enabling clinicians to see more clearly
Thanks to the technological transition from image intensifier detectors to flat panel detectors, C-arms are producing images at a higher quality than ever before. When combined with sophisticated image processing software and a high-resolution monitor to display the images, C-arms further enhance the level of detail available during procedures.

During minimally-invasive surgeries, that visualization matters. Surgeons can easily see guidewires as thin as a strand of hair in clear, high-definition detail due to advancements in complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology.

In the future, this visualization could be even more sophisticated if C-arms could enable clinicians to fuse images from Ultrasound, CT and MR on one screen. With this information, clinicians will be able to see the anatomy more accurately from several different angles. Better visualization means clinicians can diagnose and treat patients more quickly, less invasively, at a lower dose, and without extra scan time.

Increasing clinician productivity
While C-arms are portable, they can be tough to maneuver – historically, repositioning or adjusting the height of the C-arm could replace a shoulder workout at the gym. That physical exertion grows tiring over time, which can have a major impact on clinician productivity.

Ergonomically improved C-arms can completely change the way clinicians operate if they are designed with clinician comfort and workflow in mind. Featuring improved steering handles, wheels and joints, these C-arms can move naturally with clinicians, reducing the exertion needed to swing the detector around the patient or to make a height adjustment to capture different angles during surgery. Replacement of cumbersome equipment with ergonomically-improved C-arms would provide clinicians with a sleek new partner during procedures.

With advancements in flexibility, image quality and ergonomics, C-arms will play an increasingly important role in diagnostics and treatment across the world. It’s exciting to see this technology continuously evolve and make a profound impact on the patient and clinician experience.

About the author: Gustavo Perez is president and CEO of image guided therapies at GE Healthcare.