Competing wireless technologies eye radiology market

August 26, 2002

Growing numbers of healthcare facilities are arming their staffs with handheld devices to capture and retrieve patient information. It won't be long before radiologists begin sharing images with physicians equipped with PDAs. Proponents say wireless

Growing numbers of healthcare facilities are arming their staffs with handheld devices to capture and retrieve patient information. It won't be long before radiologists begin sharing images with physicians equipped with PDAs.

Proponents say wireless technologies help hospitals save money on deployment costs, eliminate human transcription errors, increase availability of real-time treatment and diagnoses, and save physicians' time. All of these factors directly affect patient care.

Already, Stanford University Medical Center's radiology department has successfully delivered radiological images to PDAs using an infrared technology from Clarinet Systems, a contender in the infrared-based network market.

Some experts believe Clarinet's real competition will come from the radio-frequency market when vendors start releasing Bluetooth-based products. Infrared has distance and line-of-sight limitations that are not a problem with Bluetooth.

Bluetooth devices could provide a wide range of services to radiologists and clinicians while improving efficiency by streamlining the workflow process, said Angela Hura, of the Anteon Corporation, U.S. Army PACS Program Management Office in Fort Detrick, MD.

"Using a Bluetooth-enabled PDA linked to a desktop system that is integrated with the hospital's RIS, the physician can perform order entry bedside, without having to leave the patient," she said.

For teleradiology applications, Bluetooth can easily provide access to images at remote sites using both push and pull scenarios, according to Hura.

The radiologist or clinician would, for example, query a remote site or archive for a particular image, she said. The remote site would push the image to a teleradiology server that would encrypt the image for transportation across the wide area network to the remote clinician. At the receiving end, the image would be sent to a desktop that serves as a network access point, compressed, and transmitted to the clinician's laptop or palmtop over a secure Bluetooth link.

As promising as the technology appears, Bluetooth-enabled devices have been slow to move to the market.

"Although Bluetooth uses spread-spectrum frequency hopping for enhanced security, there is always the possibility that a transmission could be intercepted by an antagonist," Hura said.

Since both Bluetooth and wireless local area network technologies use the same ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical) frequency band, the possibility for jamming and interference is high.

"As Bluetooth begins to hit the market, much of its future will be determined by whether users and administrators are persuaded that it can greatly enhance their wireless portfolio," Hura said. "Only time will tell whether Bluetooth products will live up to the hype."