Film firms test water before diving digital

June 19, 1991

Medical film vendors are exploring new product ideas in digitalimaging in response to growing interest on the part of their filmcustomers. It is unlikely, though, that they will jump head firstinto sales of large picture archiving and communication

Medical film vendors are exploring new product ideas in digitalimaging in response to growing interest on the part of their filmcustomers. It is unlikely, though, that they will jump head firstinto sales of large picture archiving and communication systems.

Film companies are inclined to use digital imaging equipmentto help boost film sales, noted Thomas J. Goliash, president andCEO of PACS-supplier Advanced Video Products.

"There seems to be a lot of (digital) activity on the partof film vendors, but not many sales," Goliash said.

Most film vendors sell laser printers to translate digitalimaging data into hard copy, but they have been more cautiousin exploring digital archiving, transmission and display technologies.

Du Pont made one of the first moves into digital imaging bya film company with the introduction of a laser digitizer. Thisstep was then countered by Kodak, Goliash said.

Lumisys of Sunnyvale, CA, supplies Kodak with a film digitizerand computed radiography technology (SCAN 2/13/91).

Both Kodak and Du Pont have approached AVP and other PACS vendors,looking for low-end teleradiology products, Goliash said.

"Low-cost teleradiology would be a natural extension toour Linx Networking System," said Dwight Muhlbradt, Du Pontbusiness manager for electronic imaging and information systems.He would not comment on whether Du Pont intends to develop a teleradiologyproduct or discuss potential partnerships in this area.

Du Pont's Linx Networking System provides image storage andbuffering capabilities to connect multiple medical imaging modalitieswith a laser imager. It is conceivable that this in-house technicalexpertise could be used in developing other digital imaging applications.It is also conceivable that Du Pont would look to an outside partnerfor technology, Muhlbradt said.

"We are not hung up on the idea that things have to beinvented here in Wilmington, DE," he said.

Kodak positioned itself for greater digital imaging businesswhen it chose Vortech Data as a strategic product developmentpartner last year (SCAN 9/12/90).

"Electronics and film do complement each other. Some ofour customers want to go in one direction and some in the other.They are at various stages (in their use of digital imaging technology),"said Catherine M. Burzik, manager of image and information management.

Digital imaging is a natural extension of the image handlingexpertise of the film companies, she said.

"Film images are pervasive in radiology departments, andthe film manufacturers have been responsible for those sheetsof film. It makes sense that the film companies will provide managementsolutions even though the images are now electronic," Burziksaid.

RADIOLOGISTS ARE STILL NOT ENTHUSIASTIC, however, about diagnosingfrom a screen. This fact has kept film companies concentratingon niche applications surrounding laser printers, she said.

"We have not seen a dramatic shift towards acceptanceof soft copy. There is interest. Customers indicate a desire tobuy one or two workstations and try reading (from a screen), butthere is not a wholesale trend toward CRT display to replace film,"Burzik said.

Clinical customers need to be convinced that digital systemscan provide cost-effective solutions to their medical imagingneeds, Muhlbradt agreed.

"(Digital) technology is certainly interesting and seemsto have some good applications. But the issues of cost and diagnosticvalue need to be resolved. It is just a matter of time in my opinion,"he said.

Muhlbradt acknowledged that Du Pont is exploring product possibilitiesin computed radiography, but would not elaborate.

"We are looking at digital radiology as it pertains tothe needs our customers are expressing. We are not ignoring it,"he said.

Even though demand for digital imaging products is limited,competition among film vendors makes it imperative for them tokeep their digital options open, he said.

"A viable player in the market needs to be more than justa film supplier," Muhlbradt said.

Kodak is strengthening its ties with Vortech to make sure ithas digital imaging options to offer customers. The two firmsare consolidating their development efforts, combining Kodak'sarchiving skills with Vortech's image management software expertise,Burzik said.

The large film vendor has relocated some members of its developmentstaff, bringing them together with Vortech staff in Richardson,TX, she said.