Informix database to be adapted for medical imaging

Informix database to be adapted for medical imagingEffort could help development of electronic patient recordDatabase technology developed by Informix Software will soon be adapted for PACS applications. A Tennessee start-up company is

Informix database to be adapted for medical imaging

Effort could help development of electronic patient record

Database technology developed by Informix Software will soon be adapted for PACS applications. A Tennessee start-up company is developing server software that uses an Informix object-relational database to allow users to combine patient demographic data and images on the same server. The technology could be a step forward in integrating PACS and information systems to create an electronic patient record.

Since archiving is widely recognized as one of the most challenging issues in PACS, it's only natural that a database company would turn its attention to medical imaging. In fact, medical images are one of the main sources of medical information that relational databases do not serve well, said Michael Smith, manager for worldwide healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing at Informix Software. Informix would like to see the ability to handle medical images added to its Universal Server, the company's Windows NT-based integrated object-relational database server product.

"The reason that nobody has built a truly integrated electronic patient record to date is that the underlying database technology hasn't enabled it," Smith said. "Informix Universal Server provides that missing technology necessary to create the EPR."

Many PACS networks utilize relational databases to store patient demographic data, while a separate file server often stores the images themselves. With this approach, separate management of the databases is required. The extendability of Universal Server, however, allows for the addition of new data types, such as medical images, to integrate many kinds of information onto the same database, Smith said.

The addition of new data types to Universal Server is usually accomplished through Informix's DataBlade partner program, wherein companies or organizations can develop DataBlades, which are software extensions that allow the server to manage new types of data. In its particular application, Saba Medical Imaging Technology of Nashville is developing DICOM Sword, a suite of eight DataBlade modules that will store and manage x-ray, MRI, CT, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, ECG, and visual light images, according to the companies.

Saba was formed to commercialize technology developed by the International Consortium for Medical Imaging Technology (ICMIT) of Cambridge, MA, and London, U.K. ICMIT is an organization of 13 research institutions that was formed in 1992 to advance support for the DICOM standard and to apply modern technology to medical informatics. Informix, of Menlo Park, CA, became a sponsor of the organization in February.

The ability to support objects makes Universal Server particularly suitable for medical imaging, said Forbes Dewey, co-director of ICMIT and a member of Saba's board of directors.

"When Informix became a sponsor of ICMIT we were delighted, because the Informix Universal Server technology has the capacity to deal with complicated multimedia information objects such as DICOM and other related information objects," said Dewey, who is also a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

With the capability of storing many different types of data on the same database, users will also be able to perform sophisticated searches of images and their accompanying demographic data, Smith said. For example, physicians could search all of a patient's images within a certain time frame when there is a mass within a certain proximity of an anatomical structure, he said.

DICOM Sword will be sold primarily through OEM channels, although some direct sales to large research or academic institutions may also be made. Saba plans to deliver beta units to vendors by the end of the year and will also demonstrate DICOM Sword at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in December.

Informix's DataBlade partners typically build and market the DataBlades on their own, although Informix provides assistance during the development process, as well as with sales and marketing, Smith said. Informix's agreement with Saba is nonexclusive and the database supplier may add additional partners in the medical imaging market, Smith said.

"There are certainly other areas of specialization that Saba is not targeting, and for which we may want to bring in other partners," Smith said.