Each year, the medical imaging powerhouses GE Healthcare, Siemens Healthineers, and Philips Healthcare make the most noise at RSNA as they exhibit their comprehensive portfolios in the conference’s largest booths; however, in 2018 one unlikely company announced its presence in grand fashion. In a big and bright booth stood United Imaging Healthcare. The booth’s location, immediately across from Siemens, the former company of many of its current executives, seemed strategic. United Imaging, based in Shanghai, China, has gained major market share across many modalities in recent years but has little presence beyond the Chinese border. Equipped with confidence and ample investor contributions, United Imaging announced at RSNA its bold aspirations to enter and become a force in the United States imaging market. This announcement was made with a flashy presentation featuring remarks from United Imaging’s North American CEO and other high-level employees. United Imaging’s slogan “passion for change” was a prominent motif throughout the presentation, but further detail on the company’s masterplan to dominate the US market was absent and exhibitors dodged such questions throughout the conference.
The challenging US market
United Imaging’s presence at RSNA was as bold and unclear as the company’s entry into the United States market itself. The relatively stable United States medical imaging market is dominated by medical imaging giants and therefore presents an enormous challenge to new entrants. GE and Siemens accounted for a combined two-thirds of CT revenues and GE and Philips dominated ultrasound sales. Consumer prejudice against foreign, particularly Chinese, manufacturers, makes it challenging for Chinese companies to develop strong rapport in the United States.
An unprecedented move
The scale of United Imaging’s ambitions is unprecedented. Neusoft is one of the more successful Chinese companies in the US medical imaging market. When Neusoft first launched in the United States it acknowledged the challenges of the US market, electing to only sell its flagship products—mid-range CT equipment. Since its American launch in 2006, Neusoft has acquired a loyal US client base and its presence is growing, but the company is far from becoming a top player in the market. In contrast, United Imaging plans to launch CT, MRI, molecular imaging, and X-ray modalities in the United States and aims to take on the premium equipment space, an area currently dominated by GE, Siemens, and Philips. United Imaging’s attempt to enter the United States in this fashion is incredibly bold, and it’s drawing the attention of the medical imaging community.
Backed by strong government support
United Imaging has grown at a rapid pace since its founding in 2011 to become a major player in the Chinese medical imaging market. The equivalent of $500 million has been invested in the young company, much of which has come from state-sponsored entities. The Chinese government is striving to become a global leader in medical technology, and sponsoring United Imaging aligns with this strategy. The Chinese government will have an opportunity to establish itself as a global medical imaging leader if United Imaging finds a foothold in the US premium medical imaging market. By investing in this large and growing industry, China could secure billions of dollars in revenues and improve its reputation as a technological authority.
Driven by R&D
Research and development is a key tenant of United Imaging and the company created the core technology behind its equipment. United Imaging features the Z-detector, a novel technology that decreases image noise, and has its own Artificial Intelligence subsidiary, United Imaging Intelligence. Make no doubt about it, United Imaging has strong technology and funding, but will these assets be enough to obtain success in the world’s most advanced imaging market?
The path to success is unclear
Regardless of how leadership at United Imaging defines success in the US market, by launching in the United States, the company will have access to the largest, most advanced medical imaging market in the world. United Imaging has already begun working with US healthcare providers, R&D workforces, and American distribution networks. These business relationships will enhance the company’s market intelligence and inform its strategy. Perhaps the company will fight the odds to quickly become a market leader, but if the initial launch fails the company will be equipped with better tools to carve a more successful path in the American market.