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Imageon releases Java toolkit to ease DICOM development


Imageon releases Java toolkit to ease DICOM developmentStartup will market toolkit to OEMS and end-usersDespite the development of interface engines and standards such as HL-7 and DICOM, many legacy healthcare information systems still do

Imageon releases Java toolkit to ease DICOM development

Startup will market toolkit to OEMS and end-users

Despite the development of interface engines and standards such as HL-7 and DICOM, many legacy healthcare information systems still do not communicate adequately with one another, particularly when adding clinical images to an electronic patient record system. This dilemma has forced many healthcare organizations to turn to Web-based software development tools such as Java and CORBA (common object request broker architecture) that provide a platform-independent, distributed-object approach to systems integration and facilitate enterprise-wide access to medical data and images.

While most development efforts so far have been site-specific, Birmingham, AL-based startup Imageon Solutions has introduced a commercial product that makes Java-based DICOM development available for anyone able to download the software. The Java DICOM Development Kit, the first commercial product from Imageon, is a Java library and toolkit that provides full support for DICOM 3.0 and its operations. JDDK was originally developed as part of a desktop clinical-applications solution for the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

During the course of that project, Imageon president Gary York determined that there was no way to handle or manipulate DICOM images except through C or C++ libraries. This led him to develop a Java-based DICOM library that can interact with existing commercial archives without converting the images into TIFF, JPEG, or other forms. Imageon, which was founded in 1998, has since licensed the UAB technology and is applying it to a line of commercial Java-based DICOM development products.

"Many companies in the medical imaging community are looking at using Java for imaging applications, but they are using libraries developed five or six years ago (that) don't take advantage of object-oriented technology and are hard to modify and adapt," York said. "We felt there were significant advantages to developing a library in Java using the object-oriented approach."

For example, JDDK has a high-level interface for supporting DICOM, which handles all the low-level details of DICOM communication for users. Hiding the complexities of DICOM makes it easier to develop applications without having to understand all of the standard's idiosyncrasies, according to York. Thus, using JDDK, code can be written more easily and efficiently; users need write only 100 lines of code to create a particular type of application, versus 1000 lines of code using another toolkit for the same application. In addition, because JDDK is 100% Java, it has the advantage of portability.

"Some products can be recompiled and ported to another platform, but with Java, the program executables are portable themselves," York said. "So we can release one version of this product that can run on a range of platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, Unix, and mainframes."

Imageon also focused heavily on improving the performance and scalability of Java, which is often viewed as slower than C, C++, and other languages used to write products similar to JDDK. As a result, the toolkit provides high-level support for such DICOM capabilities as C-GET, a DICOM communications service similar to C-MOVE, which is responsible for moving images from one point to another. JDDK also supports asynchronous associations and can handle a large number of concurrent applications, making it appropriate for facilities with a high level of simultaneous activities, such as 10 different users requesting images at the same time while three different scanners are in operation. The result is more efficient utilization of network resources, and less wait time for images, according to York.

Imageon is initially being marketed to hospitals, medical centers, and radiology groups looking for strategic advantages through applications they develop themselves. PACS and EPR vendors that are trying to develop products that can handle DICOM images are also potential users of the toolkit, according to York.

In all cases, Imageon is licensing JDDK; for OEMs, the license agreement is based on volume and the type of product they are developing, while for individual users, it is based on the number of machines on which JDDK is deployed. One-time licenses are $250 to $350/client, server licenses are $750 to $950, and OEM licenses are custom agreements with varying prices. JDDK is already being used at several universities, including Northwestern in Chicago, where the radiology department's imaging informatics laboratory is using the toolkit in several research projects.

"We have already had about 40 downloads since introducing JDDK on March 31," York said. "We think the market may be bigger than we anticipated because people are dissatisfied with existing products."

JDDK is the first commercially available component of Imageon's Java-based product line, called the Clinical Image Management System. Other products the company plans to introduce in the near future include Clinical Viewer, a desktop system that runs on Windows and Unix platforms using CORBA technology and is intended for image-intensive users such as cardiologists, neurosurgeons, and general surgeons; and the Java DICOM Archive, which employs efficient image-streaming technology to store and retrieve images using DICOM protocols.

"The DICOM Archive is a software-only product with a Web-based interface that runs on top of your choice of hardware, regardless of storage medium," York said. "It is a great tool for systems integrators and for hospitals that want a relatively low-cost departmental archive that is easy to administer."

The archive will be available this summer; the viewer is still awaiting Food and Drug Administration clearance.

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