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Radiology sees service as key to successful teleradiology networks


Radiology sees service as key to successful teleradiology networksCompany plans to raise its public profile this yearAccess Radiology believes that its approach to the teleradiology market is worth crowing about. The Natick, MA, company

Radiology sees service as key to successful teleradiology networks

Company plans to raise its public profile this year

Access Radiology believes that its approach to the teleradiology market is worth crowing about. The Natick, MA, company has kept a relatively low profile to date, but plans to change that in coming months by emphasizing the success it has experienced with its service and support-oriented focus on teleradiology.

Access was founded in early 1992 by former Morgan Stanley investment banker Scott Sheldon, two physicians from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center), and a colleague of Sheldon's at Morgan Stanley. They saw teleradiology as a promising opportunity to offer radiology services more efficiently without reducing the quality of patient care.

The original idea behind Access was to offer a wide range of teleradiology services, including network design and implementation, overread services à la TeleQuest and Teleradiology Associates, and network maintenance and support. Access tweaked its business model over the next few years, jettisoning the overread services concept but continuing to sell and install teleradiology and networking products from multiple imaging vendors while building up a service and support capacity. The company participates in the teleradiology and miniPACS markets, and does not sell large-scale PACS products.

Access has chosen to emphasize service and support because it believes there is a void created by many companies' approaches to the teleradiology and miniPACS markets. Most of these firms service and support teleradiology systems in a manner similar to that used for modality equipment: A regional field service force is maintained and dispatched to sites having problems with their equipment.

That model doesn't always work in teleradiology, however. For one thing, many pieces of teleradiology equipment, such as film digitizers, are relatively low priced, and thus it is not cost-effective to have service support personnel dispatched for every technical problem that occurs.

"It is impossible economically to have the sort of in-field support for this technology that the industry has grown up expecting in other applications," Sheldon said.

At the same time, however, the complex nature of PACS software and its importance to the facilities where it is installed require a high level of support. Access has found the solution to be its support center, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week facility located at its headquarters in Natick. Access began developing the concept for the center from the company's inception, and it has been running on a full-time, heavy-use basis for about a year. During peak hours, as many as 10 Access employees staff the center, a number that drops to as few as two during times of light use, such as overnight.

Like remote diagnostics programs that multimodality vendors have implemented for MRI, CT, and other modalities, the support center is able to handle applications questions and technical difficulties, and can solve 95% of customer problems without dispatching a service engineer. More important, however, is the center's ability to proactively monitor a customer's network and catch problems before they arise. The center can also monitor customers' use of the network and help them meet the quality assurance guidelines for teleradiology published by the American College of Radiology.

In essence, the support center replaces the personnel and procedures that a radiology department might have in place to manage film use if it were still using a film-based system, according to Sheldon.

"Our support center is in fairly constant contact with our customers as they use this technology," Sheldon said. "It's the same management that would occur at a film-based hospital of the different elements that can go wrong in the process of image capture and management."

Developing a product line

As it assembled a service and support capability, Access management began to recognize what the company considered the clinical limitations of teleradiology products on the market. Believing that it could build a better mousetrap, the company in 1995 began developing its Framewave teleradiology product line, which includes film digitizers (accessed through Lumisys), framegrabbers, direct digital DICOM links, workstations, and servers. Access made a decision to base the technology on standard computer hardware platforms: Its servers are based on the Unix operating system, acquisition devices can run on either Windows 95 or Windows NT, and review stations are either Windows NT or Unix. Framewave received 510(k) clearance in the spring of 1996. Access also recently released a new archiving product.

Access has realized synergies between the Framewave product line and its service activities. For example, it was able to write the software code for Framewave to more fully support online service and maintenance. The company is also able to provide a more unified set of product offerings to potential customers, and no longer has to market itself as a firm that specializes in installing and maintaining products developed by other companies.

In a twist on the company's original business model, Access has found itself as a provider of teleradiology products to other firms. Access in July signed an agreement with Sterling Diagnostic Imaging to provide Framewave as the teleradiology solution for Sterling's Linx networks (PNN 8/97). Framewave is also being provided as the teleradiology connection for PACS products sold by GE Medical Systems, an agreement that was originally reached between Access and Lockheed Martin Medical Imaging Systems, which GE purchased in April. Access believes that it will see increased revenues from this agreement because GE's sales and marketing channels are stronger than those of Lockheed Martin. Access late last month added Imnet Systems to its OEM stable (see story, page 5).

Another interesting collaboration exists between Access and Aware, a Bedford, MA, developer of image-compression software based on wavelet compression algorithms. The two firms this year finalized a deal in which Access received exclusive rights in the medical imaging market to Aware's wavelet technology, which enables image compression at ratios of up to 30:1 or 50:1 with no recognizable loss of data. At the upcoming Radiological Society of North America meeting, Access plans to exhibit the first products developed through the alliance, which is applying the technology to products that enable medical images and information to be distributed over the World Wide Web. The product, tentatively called Butterfly, will be offered as a plug-in to Netscape or Microsoft browsers, and will be a low-cost way of allowing physicians to access archived images and patient information.

The confidence that Access has in its technology has led the company to begin a new marketing campaign intended to raise its profile as one of the leading vendors of teleradiology and miniPACS. Even with its low profile to date, Access has done well: The company has tripled its sales force since January and now has 13 sales representatives. Fueled by an expanding OEM portfolio, a promising product line, and a novel take on teleradiology, Access should continue to experience growth as the use of teleradiology and miniPACS expands.

Access Radiology
313 Speen St.
Natick, MA 01760
fax: 508/647-9350

Scott Sheldon, president and CEO
Phil Holberton, CFO
Howard Pinsky, chief technology officer
Dan Trott, vice president of sales and marketing
Peter Bak, vice president of product development

Teleradiology product lines
Framewave teleradiology networks
Network support and service
Network design and installation
Butterfly Web software (in development)

Product distribution
Direct and through OEMs

OEM partners
GE Medical Systems, Sterling Diagnostic Imaging, Imnet Systems

Product development partners

Selected customers
University of Virginia in Charlottesville; Lahey Hitchcock Medical Center in Burlington, MA; New York/New Jersey VA VISN hospital group; TeleQuest in Boston; Alaska Native Health in Anchorage; DigitalCare/St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, OK; King Drew in Los Angeles.

Long-term strategy
To expand in teleradiology and miniPACS segments by emphasizing unique product set, including Framewave teleradiology line, 24-hour service and support of teleradiology and miniPACS networks, and Web-based referring-physician image distribution products.

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