Vendor hopes product will become industry standardNiche interface firms beware: A giant is treading on your turf.Eastman Kodak has developed its own toolkit for implementationof the ACR-NEMA DICOM 3.0 standard. The medical film and
Niche interface firms beware: A giant is treading on your turf.Eastman Kodak has developed its own toolkit for implementationof the ACR-NEMA DICOM 3.0 standard. The medical film and image-managementvendor has started marketing the product to OEM suppliers of scannersand other medical imaging equipment.
Kodak will also sell its DICOM toolkit directly to hospitalsand other picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) endusers, pending Food and Drug Administration market certification,said C.B. Stone, DICOM program manager for Kodak Health ImagingSystems in Richardson, TX. The toolkit is a software package thatenables vendors and other users to develop a DICOM interface,allowing their equipment to "talk" to products fromother manufacturers.
Although other suppliers with similar products have determinedotherwise, Kodak believes that the toolkit requires FDA certificationsince it involves direct acquisition and manipulation of medicalimaging data, Stone told SCAN. The vendor is currently preparingan FDA application.
Kodak's DICOM toolkit doesn't tap a huge new market for thefirm, particularly when measured against its vast medical film,printing and PACS businesses. But Kodak was not focused on tappingnew markets when it launched the toolkit development effort, Stonesaid. The R&D program was initiated to support Kodak's ownconversion of its products to DICOM.
External sales of the toolkit will help pick up the tab forKodak's multi-million-dollar R&D investment and will fundcontinuing modification of the product, he said. Kodak initiallysearched for an outside DICOM toolkit supplier but decided thatit had to do the work itself in order to ensure adequate implementationof the standard.
"The (DICOM) implementations we saw were not very portablebetween operating systems and platforms," he said. "Werun on a number of diverse platforms and needed something thatwe could quickly move over from platform to platform with a minimalamount of effort. The more we looked, the more disenchanted webecame. We ended up realizing that, for what we wanted, we hadto do it ourselves."
Design flexibility was another important feature that Kodakbelieved was lacking in existing DICOM toolkit products, he said.Design flexibility is necessary, given that DICOM is still a movingtarget. Existing sections of the standard will continue to berefined, while new functions will be added.
"We didn't find (toolkit) solutions that we thought wereviable over the long term and that had the proper design methodology,"Stone said.
Kodak Health Imaging Systems, and previously Vortech Data,the PACS company purchased by Kodak, had always used an object-orientedanalysis and design methodology, Stone said. This method is consistentwith the object orientation of DICOM.
"Fundamental DICOM concepts, such as image objects andservice classes, were developed out of object-oriented analysis,design and programming concepts," he said. "The standardwas written with that future direction of software developmentin mind. We are the only (PACS) company that has implemented (itsnetworking software) along those lines."
Developing an industry standard. Kodak's equipment sales maybenefit from widespread OEM adoption of its toolkit, Stone said.Although DICOM-based equipment developed using different toolkitsshould in theory be completely compatible, conformity of implementationis made more difficult by the need to interpret many parts ofthe standard. The compatibility of different equipment, therefore,might be eased by use of the same toolkit. In addition, broadadoption of the Kodak toolkit by medical imaging OEMs would enableKodak equipment to fit smoothly into most DICOM-compliant sites.
"If all the companies were using our toolkit, they wouldbe able to walk in (to an imaging facility), plug together (withother equipment) and work right off the bat. We could also dothe same thing," Stone said.
Implementation of DICOM is a complex process that is takinglonger than many customers had hoped when the standard was ratifiedlast year (SCAN 11/17/94).User patience should prove fruitfulin the near future, however, Stone said.
"By mid-1995, we should see a plethora of (DICOM-compliant)products," he said. "Most modality (imaging) equipmentfrom major vendors will be native DICOM-compliant. Printing deviceswill be native DICOM-compliant in the same time frame. Additionally,the whole middle ground of image management equipment will comeup to speed at the same time."
Users should have no doubt that the DICOM train is rollingand picking up speed. The standard is quickly becoming an internationalprerequisite for equipment sales, he said.
"I see RFPs (request for proposals) come across my deskevery day. They all mandate DICOM compliance -- and not just inthis country," Stone said.
Japanese scanner vendors, for instance, are concerned aboutDICOM because of the growing influence of the standard in theAsian market, particularly China, he said. The Chinese governmenthas declared that new scanner imports into that vast market mustbe DICOM-compliant.
A meeting of the ACR-NEMA committee was held earlier this monthin Brussels jointly with the European Union's Comite Europeende Normalization (CEN) agency. CEN plans to use DICOM as the basisfor its implementation of medical imaging standards.
ACR-NEMA's newly established Working Group 3 was scheduledto begin thrashing out printing-related issues at the Brusselsmeeting, Stone said.