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Picker takes system integrator role to succeed in PACS marketplace


Picker takes system integrator role to succeed in PACS marketplaceFirm emphasizes connectivity and integration capabilitiesAs one of the Big Five multimodality imaging vendors, Picker International has been a stalwart in the medical

Picker takes system integrator role to succeed in PACS marketplace

Firm emphasizes connectivity and integration capabilities

As one of the Big Five multimodality imaging vendors, Picker International has been a stalwart in the medical imaging market, thanks to strong positions in the conventional x-ray, CT, MRI, and nuclear medicine sectors. The same couldn't be said for its participation in the PACS marketplace until recently.

As a complement to its overall radiology business, and also to reflect Picker's expansion strategy, the Cleveland-based company has built up a formidable PACS organization over the last two years. Its image management division has more than 60 employees and has landed more than 500 customers since the group was formally launched in October 1996, said David Talton, general manager for Picker's image management division.

Instead of relying on in-house technology, Picker has adopted a systems integrator model in order to participate in the PACS sector. The company maintains OEM relationships with several PACS software developers, including Imation, Applicare, and Algotec. Notable companies that also contribute their product lines include Agfa, Eastman Kodak, Sterling, and Fuji.

Picker is in the process of installing its first filmless site at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. More than 25 diagnostic workstations have been put in place, and an archive set will be installed shortly. Completion is expected by the end of the year, although network links to satellite facilities in Utah and other states are planned for 1999. Applicare contributed its Radworks software for that installation.

"While we don't have a history yet with large-scale PACS sites, we are growing our installed base, and over time, we will be well-positioned to compete for these contracts," Talton said.

Picker's image management group has its own direct sales organization, as well as the advantage of leveraging additional PACS sales from Picker Health Care Products, a provider of radiology supplies. In addition to product sales efforts, the company has launched an organization called PickerConnect, which can design, install, and maintain network infrastructure for hospital clients.

Picker also maintains a DICOM-compliance testing laboratory, where Picker's modality organization, third parties, and even Picker competitors can test their DICOM compliance and systems integration capabilities. As for service capabilities, Picker has more than 1000 locally based service engineers in the U.S. and at least an additional 500 in other regions of the globe.

Long history

Picker should by no means be considered a latecomer to the market. The firm was one of the founding members of the DICOM committee in the mid-1980s and has invested heavily in building DICOM conformance for all its modalities and PACS products.

Early on, Picker developed Assist, a teleradiology system that was suitable for a number of applications, including hospital to radiologist, hospital to clinic, and radiologist to referring clinician. Assist was later replaced by OnCall, a PC-based viewing workstation for both laptop and desktop computers. Assist and OnCall never went past the product testing phase, however.

Later, Picker unveiled Galaxy, the cluster-based concept of DICOM-compatible workstations for scanner modalities. Picker has installed more than 3000 such visualization stations in the past five years. Galaxy also included the company's Montage multi-monitor primary diagnostic workstation, which has since turned into the TwinStar MR postprocessing station.

At the 1995 Radiological Society of North America meeting, Picker unveiled its systems-integration service to help customers set up DICOM-based PACS networks. In 1995, Picker also signed an OEM relationship agreement with Olicon. Although that agreement is nearing an end, Picker continues to support the Olicon PACS and teleradiology products it placed in the field, Talton said.

To expand its presence in the PACS market, Picker launched its dedicated image-management business unit in late 1996, and at that time it phased out the use of the Galaxy concept. At the 1997 RSNA show, Picker devoted an extensive portion of its booth to PACS technology. Of particular note was its JPACS product line, a Java-based image distribution system contributed by partner Algotec.

The offering includes JPACS/Remote, which is targeted for on-call teleradiology or in-house image distribution to non-radiologists who require 12-bit image resolution, according to the firm. The third version of JPACS/Remote will be displayed at this year's RSNA meeting. Another offering in the JPACS line, JPACS/Results, is a Java- and Oracle-based software package that provides distribution of images and reports to referring physicians. JPACS/Results was developed by the image management division's R&D group.

The R&D group is working to develop new PACS technology, although these products would represent a small portion of Picker's product offerings, Talton said. They are working on technology involving distribution of radiology results as well as related work-flow issues, he said.

Future prospects

Hospitals are increasingly looking for integrated solutions and one-stop shopping for digital image management. Picker's strength in DICOM conformance and its decision to offer a wide range of PACS technology products appear to have struck a chord with prospective clients, who are already familiar with the company through its respected contributions as a multimodality imaging vendor. The distribution strength of Picker Health Care Products is another major plus.

The vendor's reliance on alliances for most of its PACS products does give it less control over the technology it sells, and could put the firm at risk for losing access to a key portion of its product line in the event of a corporate acquisition or merger. The wealth of companies in the PACS market, however, assures that Picker will always have someone with whom to partner, and a prominent place for the company in this sector seems assured.

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