General Electric is to invest €4.5 billion ($6 billion) over the next six years in innovative healthcare technology, the firm announced yesterday.

The new ‘Healthyimagination’ program aims to reduce health care cost and improve access and quality.

Under the initiative, the company says it will invest €2.2 billion ($3 billion) in 100 R&D projects in medical technology such as portable ultrasound machines and low-cost X-ray equipment, together with electronic health records and other health IT developments.

As part of the initiative the company will also launch ‘50 low-cost products’ tailored to the needs of organisations with limited access to healthcare IT.

GE will also commit €1.5 billion ($2 billion) in financing and €740m ($1 billion) in related GE technology and content to drive healthcare information technology in rural and underserved areas.

"Healthcare is an important industry that is challenged by rising costs, inequality of access and persistent quality issues," GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said at a Washington press conference to unveil the new initiative.

"We will invest in innovations that measurably improve cost, access and quality," Immelt said.

"Healthcare needs new solutions. We must innovate with smarter processes and technologies that help doctors and hospitals deliver better healthcare to more people at a lower cost," he added.

The program aims to reduce health care cost and improve access and quality, said Immelt, who said three billion dollars is to be invested on innovations that will lower health care costs by at least 15 percent.

The head of GE’s Healthcare Division, Reinaldo Garcia, predicted the initiative "will have a big impact in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East" where low cost, portable technology is much in demand.

As well as cheaper diagnostic and imaging technology GE promised to help increase the use and capability of electronic medical record technology and other information technology that speed communications, limit variation and control costs.

The company announced two initiatives specifically designed to speed adoption of EMRs, and other clinical IT systems particularly in the US market.

An electronic clinical decision support system, jointly developed by GE, Intermountain Healthcare and the Mayo Clinic, will be commercially launched in 2010.

GE Capital will provide $2 billion in financing to help health providers in rural and underserved areas access innovations that improve health and reduce the cost of care. GE will focus financing to assist in the adoption of EMRs and health information exchanges.