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Saturday / June 15.
HomeminewsWatch this Space: Heidelberg Engineering

Watch this Space: Heidelberg Engineering

Heidelberg Engineering’s new General Manager in Australia, Chris Farley, has something to say. Quite simply, he wants you to watch this space, because “you’ll probably see a fair bit more from us over the next 12 months”.

Perhaps a quiet achiever here in Australia, Heidelberg Engineering is a global leader in premium optics technology, best known for the Spectralis multimodal imaging device used by ophthalmologists and some optometrists for the posterior segment. Just prior to COVID, the company launched the Anterion, a high resolution swept-source optical coherence tomographer (SS-OCT) for imaging the anterior segment of the eye.

One of the big things that we’re looking at from a Heidelberg perspective is how we can improve the user experience

Perhaps a quiet achiever here in Australia, Heidelberg Engineering is a global leader in premium optics technology, best known for the Spectralis multimodal imaging device used by ophthalmologists and some optometrists for the posterior segment. Just prior to COVID, the company launched the Anterion, a high resolution swept-source optical coherence tomographer (SS-OCT) for imaging the anterior segment of the eye.

Noting that Heidelberg doesn’t have the breadth of hardware products of some of its competitors, Mr Farley said the emphasis is instead on facilitating better patient outcomes by enabling practitioners to access and leverage the best of the best devices from multiple suppliers.

“One of the big things that we’re looking at from a Heidelberg perspective is how we can improve the user experience and how we can make that seamless connectivity between not just our devices, but others as well. It’s something that we’ve started to implement already with some customers, but we’re looking to roll that out much further with Heyex 2 – the main software people use with our devices.

Heyex 2 has native, vendor neutral digital imaging and picture archiving capabilities to enable clinicians to import imaging and reports from multiple devices for integrated display on a single personal computer screen.

Clinicians are also able to share examinations between different locations via a secure encrypted cloud contact.

“You might have a satellite clinic or a colleague at another place, and you might want a second opinion. You just drag and drop the examination and they can see it,” he explained.

Democracy of Artificial Intelligence

Cloud connectivity is also forming the backbone for a partnership with third party artificial intelligence (AI) driven applications for analysis of diagnostic images of the eye. Depending on jurisdiction, these apps are already being used for diagnosis or research.

“Again, it’s a simple drag and drop. You can drag an examination or a series of images to the (app) icon, and a few minutes later you get a report back with an AI-based analysis of what you’re looking at. But what’s really exciting, is in the case of geographic atrophy (GA), for example, you will see a progression chart and a forecast image of how that (patient’s disease) is going to progress over the next six, 12, and 24 months, which is valuable for patient education as well.”

Describing AI as a technology that “really democratises diagnosis”, he said tools that support clinicians in this way will be important to help overcome the challenges of an ageing population.

“We’re getting more and more patients without the corresponding increase in clinicians. And we see a lot of clinicians really struggling with staffing… So being able to rely on the tools more for routine tasks (means) clinicians (can) add the most value where they can… I think that’s where AI will really bring a lot of benefits.”

Opportunity in Geographic Atrophy

With new treatments for GA now approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in the pipeline for Australia, this disease state will be a focus for Heidelberg soon.

“A lot of the validation studies for GA in particular have been done with a Spectralis, so it is the gold standard. I think it’s a really exciting space to be in… It’s not just that we can make the diagnosis and say, ‘Look, unfortunately (there’s no available treatment)’. Now we can actually do something about it.”

Born of German descent in the Victorian suburb of Heidelberg, and an engineer by training, Mr Farley said joining Heidelberg felt like coming “full circle”. Having worked in consultancy positions in the innovation space, including a stint at Planet Innovation, he also said his new role is an opportunity to immerse himself in a more focussed aspect of medical engineering.

“The opportunity to get deep into a topic, but also to really have that clinical interaction, and to work with end users and see the impact, ultimately, of the work we’re doing on patient outcomes. For me, that was really one of the key drivers.

“At the end of the day, I could be doing anything. One of the reasons why I’m so interested in medical devices and what got me interested in the first place, was the positive impact it was having on the world and actually on people.”

Building on Solid Ground

Mr Farley acknowledged the work of Carey Hazelbank, who was the Australian distributor for Heidelberg Engineering for 10 years before stepping into the role of General Manager for a further decade.

“He built up a really great team. There’s a lot of knowledge within the Heidelberg Engineering Australia team that continues in his absence, but equally, he’s done a great job of educating our customers and users.

“We did a bit of a farewell tour, we didn’t get to see everyone, unfortunately, but we did manage to meet quite a number of people around the country. And what I really saw through that was the deep, enduring relationships that he built up with people throughout the industry.

“All around the country, people who were customers had also become friends. (Over) 20 years he really brought us to that point where I would say we have the most admired devices on the market and probably with the best reputation for service and support as well.”