FDA grants clearance to Internet ultrasound system

March 1, 2000

The FDA has granted marketing clearance to IntraCom, a software developer and clinical service provider, for MedEcho, a software and hardware package that works in conjunction with the company’s Web portal to enable ultrasound images to be

The FDA has granted marketing clearance to IntraCom, a software developer and clinical service provider, for MedEcho, a software and hardware package that works in conjunction with the company’s Web portal to enable ultrasound images to be transmitted and reviewed in real-time over the Internet.

This is IntraCom’s first commercial product, and the first in the company’s proposed MedDesk suite of Internet-based healthcare applications.

MedEcho is also the first Internet-based system developed specifically for real-time, full-motion ultrasound imaging, according to Jim Nations, president of Thousand Oaks, CA-based IntraCom. The FDA clearance covers all ultrasound indications, including cardiology, OB/GYN, and pediatric and fetal echo exams.

At the heart of MedEcho are several patent-pending technologies and intellectual properties, including proprietary compression algorithms, video streaming technology, user interfaces, a search engine, and online medical transcription capabilities. Much of this technology has been in development since the company was established in 1996.

Compression capabilities are critical to the system’s success, according to Nations. Using a lossless wavelet-based approach optimized for ultrasound, MedEcho can transmit full-size, full-motion video images at 15 frames per second or better over standard phone lines. In addition, physicians on the receiving end can retrieve selected segments in the original full-resolution image file. Physicians at a remote site can also view exams in progress and guide the technician or physician acquiring the images to obtain the best diagnostic views.

“Ultrasound manufacturers and doctors live and die by the quality of the image, and it is our job to deliver that on the other end,” Nations said. “This is not something that can just be pulled off the shelf, because you can lose frames or resolution (that way). You have to develop the algorithms.”

In addition to the software, which runs on any Pentium-based PC, IntraCom provides the image-capture CPU that is attached to the hospital’s ultrasound system, and an online service that makes images accessible outside the exam room and beyond. As with several of the new Internet-based, image-management and archiving products—such as InDex from Insite One (SCAN 2/2/00)—MedEcho is used in conjunction with IntraCom’s Web portal (the URL is pending) to link the desktop system at the remote site to the originating hospital or medical center.

The portal is also designed to provide transcription and e-mail services; allow patients to access their medical records and medical literature; and link with several clinical and consumer-oriented e-commerce sites, such as Amazon.com and OfficeMax.com. IntraCom has strategic relationships with several of these sites, as well as pending relationships with various communications and connectivity companies, including MCI Worldcom, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard. The company is also establishing a partnership with an online, off-site archiving service to support its MedVault image and patient record storage application.

“What we have tried to do is create a virtual reading room,” Nations said. “MedDesk essentially functions like a desktop that includes the imaging component.”

IntraCom charges customers a flat subscription fee that covers the hardware, software, and access to the online service. On the acquisition side, hospitals pay $750/month, which includes the acquisition unit and a server to help route the images. On the remote side, physicians pay $100/month for software and access to the server.

Final release of MedEcho is expected next quarter. The system is currently in place at four evaluation sites around the country, but IntraCom has 34 pending contracts that will be fulfilled over the next two months, according to Mark Kiene, national director of sales.