Private image networks may allow "virtual archiving"Eastman Kodak pulled out all the stops last month at a glitzypresentation in San Francisco designed to highlight the company'snew direction in digital imaging. While much of the
Eastman Kodak pulled out all the stops last month at a glitzypresentation in San Francisco designed to highlight the company'snew direction in digital imaging. While much of the content ofthe two-hour showcase concerned products unrelated to the medicalmarket, the Rochester, NY, company did provide a tantalizing glimpseof new technologies that could reshape the way medical imagesare transmitted over telecommunications networks.
The presentation was designed as the coming-out party for acompany that has undergone a profound change in direction overthe past year. Kodak last year sold off its nonimaging businesses,including the Sterling Winthrop pharmaceutical division, in aneffort to focus on its core markets (SCAN 7/13/94 and 5/18/94).
With chairman and CEO George Fisher serving as master of ceremonies,Kodak outlined its plans for moving forward in digital imaging.Those plans rely on alliances with other vendors, such as Microsoft,IBM and Kinko's copy centers, to expand Kodak's digital offeringsto consumer markets.
Kodak hopes to increase consumer demand for digital image storageand manipulation through new products such as digital camerasand existing offerings like Kodak's Photo CD product, which willbe revised to an open architecture and relaunched later this year.Kodak unveiled a new logo, Kodak Digital Science, as an umbrellaterm for the new direction.
One technology unveiled at the presentation could have intriguingramifications for the medical imaging market. To increase useof digitized pictures, Kodak is planning to develop a huge centralrepository of digital images. Consumers and businesses will beable to send images to Kodak for digitization and storage withinthe repository, which will consist of a huge set of powerful servers.Each business will have its images stored in its own private imagenetwork, while consumers will have access to public image networks,according to Carl Gustin, vice president and general manager ofKodak's Digital and Applied Imaging business. The repository willremove the need for businesses to have image archives on siteby replacing them with "virtual archives."
The images can be accessed via modem over standard dial-upphone lines. There is one catch, however: Image files are large,and downloading them over dial-up lines can take hours. To addressthis dilemma, Kodak demonstrated a new technology it accessedthrough a partnership with Live Picture, a software developerbased in Soquel, CA.
Live Picture's IVue technology is a method of reformattingthe image data of pixel images to make them available at differentresolutions for display on computer monitors. The image is storedas a sequence of subimages, which are organized into segmentsthat enable users to pull up images quickly by accessing onlythe information they need. The technique is not a compressionbut can be used with compression schemes.
To explain the technology and its applications, Anna Godfrey,creative director of Live Picture, created a 30-MB image of theSan Francisco skyline, then sent a 150-KB "script,"ormathematical representation of edits and changes to the image,via a 28.8-Kbps modem, to a site in New York, where it arrivedabout a minute later. The image was manipulated in New York andthen sent back to San Francisco, with the entire process takingabout five minutes. Sending an entire image file would take hoursusing conventional technology and dial-up lines, according toGustin.
The Live Picture demonstration could easily have applicationsin medical imaging, according to Carl Kohrt, vice president andgeneral manager of Kodak's Health Sciences division. The 35-MBfile used in the presentation was about the size of a conventionalchest x-ray study, he said. Kodak's private image networks couldsupplement or replace image archives at some hospitals.
"This is one of the tools that either small or large institutionsmight choose to take advantage of," Kohrt told SCAN. "Itgets rid of the space commitment and in many respects it getsrid of capital costs they might have to incur."
Kodak plans to begin building the repository's architecturein the next four to five months, in collaboration with Sprintand other partners.
"We will begin immediately building private image networks,building servers, building repositories, incorporating the foundationarchitecture, and getting the software in place, so that we canimplement this quickly, seamlessly and inexpensively," Gustinsaid.
Several issues remain to be solved before the technology canbe used in the medical arena, Kohrt pointed out. Private imagenetworks for medical archiving will probably require Food andDrug Administration approval, and there are also privacy issuesinvolved, due to the use of off-site architecture and third partiesfor storing patient images.
"I think it will all be solvable," Kohrt said. "Howrapidly and in what form is to be determined."
In addition to the virtual archiving technology, Kodak announcedan expansion of its Project Spectrum relationship with IBM. ProjectSpectrum is an ambitious multimillion-dollar effort to integrateinto one network all the information and imaging systems of BJCHealth System and Washington University School of Medicine, bothin St. Louis. Kodak and IBM, along with Southwestern Bell, announcedthe venture in June 1994.
IBM and Kodak last month agreed to work together to marketProject Spectrum-like systems to other health-care facilities,according to Gil Peterson, vice president of Kodak's Imagelinkbusiness unit. Peterson joined Kodak after leaving PACS developerAdvanced Video Products last year when its parent E-Systems boughtImage Data (SCAN 10/26/94).
"We have now agreed with IBM formally to collaborate onadditional opportunities that make sense for the two of us topursue as partners," Peterson said. "Our intent is notsimply to build a one-off research product for BJC, but to spinoff commercial products from this effort."
Some subsystems components of Kodak's Ektascan Imagelink PACSproduct are already in operation at BJC hospitals, and additionalmajor systems components will be installed in coming months, Petersonsaid.