PACS dashboard keeps tabs on networks' vital signs

January 23, 2002

Monitor could alert users to impending overloadNetwork speed is a critical determinant of PACS productivity, yet vendors provide precious few ways to gauge the speed of a PACS network. The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) may

Monitor could alert users to impending overload

Network speed is a critical determinant of PACS productivity, yet vendors provide precious few ways to gauge the speed of a PACS network. The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) may have an answer.

Researchers at the Milwaukee-based facility have constructed a user-friendly, Web-based dashboard that tracks the performance of a PACS in sending DICOM images from an archive to requesting workstations. The dashboard, called PACSpulse, focuses on variables of most interest to the end user, such as time for the first image to load or time to transfer the entire study.

"Subsecond access time to the first image and gigabit speeds to the desktop have become a necessity in today's high-volume reading environment," said Paul Nagy, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Wisconsin.

PACSpulse, which was exhibited at infoRAD during the RSNA meeting, analyzes data indicating the performance of the server, network, or workstation. These analyses can be used to identify bottlenecks. A beginning and ending time stamp, image size, and number of images, for example, are identified on an audit log of the PACS archive. Charting tools allow operating parameters of the PACS to be assessed at a glance.

PACSpulse discriminates between data coming into the archive and those being transferred to a workstation. The reason, according to Nagy, is that PACS performance typically is more important when data are going out to a workstation than when they are coming in from a modality.

The system can be used as a sentinel, he said. Thresholds can be set to incorporate trending analyses to alert staff about situations that might lead to an overload. PACSpulse might be programmed to support Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) audit analysis. It could also be used to document the capabilities of the PACS, so the network can be used optimally.

"Using PACSpulse, we were able to determine that our server was capable of handling 70K procedures with only minimal performance degradation," Nagy said.

PACSpulse organizes data in four different ways to help detect trends and limitations in performance that cannot be seen by looking at individual data points. Graphical presentations provide a quick, one-page snapshot of how the PACS is operating. The system is entirely automated and requires minimal resources to set up due to the use of robust, free software.

"The intention is to make this as user-friendly as possible and have more than just a DICOM-certified PACS engineer be able to understand what's going on," he said.

PACSpulse is an open-source technology. Nagy's group chose Linux, because the operating system is stable and very low-cost. The dashboard runs just as well, however, on Windows and Unix. The developers chose to open-source PACSpulse, Nagy said, to encourage PACS vendors to integrate the tool into their PACS solutions and to offer customers a way to monitor and optimize PACS performance.