GE teams with EMC to develop PACS with online storage for small enterprises

February 7, 2005

PACS companies have earned their reputations on the shoulders of academic giants, where multimillion-dollar deals are common and sprawling IT systems are the rule. But lately, some have turned their attention to the small fry: imaging centers and community and midsize hospitals of 100 to 400 beds. Until recently, these facilities had been the sole province of specialty vendors. At the RSNA meeting, however, GE Healthcare served notice that these facilities would be overlooked no more.

PACS companies have earned their reputations on the shoulders of academic giants, where multimillion-dollar deals are common and sprawling IT systems are the rule. But lately, some have turned their attention to the small fry: imaging centers and community and midsize hospitals of 100 to 400 beds. Until recently, these facilities had been the sole province of specialty vendors. At the RSNA meeting, however, GE Healthcare served notice that these facilities would be overlooked no more.

GE unveiled Centricity SE (Small Enterprise), a plug-and-play PACS capable of handling digital imaging workflow. It offers the same features and functionality as the company's high-end Centricity EE (Enterprise Edition) yet avoids the complications of system management that encumber such larger PACS.

"We have taken the depth of workflow and advanced capabilities of our Centricity EE and packaged it into an online PACS at a price that's affordable for community hospitals and imaging centers," said Peter McClennen, GE global general manger for imaging and information systems.

A bare-bones configuration can be had for about $300,000, according to McClennen. Fully loaded, the system can run close to a million dollars.

Centricity SE installs in less than a day and requires minimal training to operate. The system arrives at the hospital or imaging center ready for installation. It is customized and completely built at the GE factory to meet the needs of the facility where it will be installed.

"It's all about scaling the hardware," McClennen said. "But even in the hardware, we have done some unique things."

The Intel-driven server on board Centricity SE interfaces with a specially designed online device from EMC called the Clariion AX 100. This device provides instantaneous access to patient images.

"The all-online design allows the smaller facility to have all their images available immediately at a price that is right for them versus storing them in an offline archive," he said.

AX100 has a street price under $5000, a fifth the cost of any storage device developed previously by EMC. The giant storage company sought a product at that price to broaden its market. But to reach that point, EMC engineers had to make decisions about packaging, ease of use, and performance trade-offs.

"In this case, GE came to us and started describing what they wanted to do, and we matched those with some ideas of our own," said Joel Schwartz, senior vice president and general manger for EMC's midrange systems division.

GE was looking for a way to get the cost of its Centricity PACS within the reach of smaller medical facilities. EMC was searching for a way to expand the market for the AX100, which was then still in the planning stages.

The partnership between GE and EMC came together quickly. The two companies began working on the details last spring. In eight months, they had a combined product.

The scalability of the Centricity SE and AX100 will be a key consideration in determining that success. The two are made to order for administrators who must plan for future growth. Expanding storage is a snap on the front end with the AX100. Its capacity can be configured to handle between 480 GB and 3 terabytes (TB). By next year, that range is expected to double to 6 TB.

Once installed, Centricity SE has online storage that can be expanded by adding more AX100 units. Sites also have the option of installing more storage-intensive devices from EMC's midrange product line.

One could argue that PACS setups have been scalable for a long time. But they have only been scalable if hospitals were willing to cover the upfront cost of an oversized computing frame, one that was too big for the size of the PACS initially but could support the one it might grow to be. GE has since begun promoting a different approach.

"We are number one in the smaller facility marketplace, but we have achieved that with a pretty heavy infrastructure," McClennen said. "Now we have 'right-sized' the system to meet their needs."

EMC's AX100 is an integral part of that right-sizing, but it is not the exclusive property of GE. The storage device, like other EMC products, is being supplied to many companies in and outside of healthcare. Toward that end, EMC is specifically working with other companies to combine its AX100 device with their PACS and electronic healthcare records.

"You will see the product available from many vendors," Schwartz said. "Our objective is for the AX100 to be the standard at the low end of the PACS market."