SCAR finds PACS market at crossroads as vendors continue to add innovations

July 1, 1997

SCAR finds PACS market at crossroads as vendors continue to add innovationsMany companies target low-cost Web-based solutionsThe PACS market has finally begun to gain momentum, thanks to increased customer recognition of the benefits and

SCAR finds PACS market at crossroads as vendors continue to add innovations

Many companies target low-cost Web-based solutions

The PACS market has finally begun to gain momentum, thanks to increased customer recognition of the benefits and efficacy of digital image management. Universal adoption of PACS remains hindered, however, by the cost constraints healthcare institutions face in today's market.

While healthcare providers recognize that they must become more efficient to survive, they are often thwarted by a dilemma: They want the improved efficiency of information systems such as PACS, but deciding to pursue a fully filmless radiology department seems cost-prohibitive, given the limited capital acquisition dollars available.

To respond to this challenge, vendors are increasingly turning to low-cost solutions utilizing technology such as the World Wide Web, which offers particular benefit in distributing images and patient information to referring clinicians. This approach allows healthcare facilities to reap some of the added rewards of PACS without having to add more proprietary workstations. Clinicians can simply log on to a standard Web browser to access patient images and/or information.

The growing number of vendors looking to take advantage of the need for low-cost image dissemination to clinicians were on full display at the Symposium for Computer Applications in Radiology in June.

Access Radiology and Aware discussed their new alliance to jointly develop an Internet/intranet server that will allow clinicians to review images using a Web browser. The server will incorporate Bedford, MA-based Aware's wavelet compression algorithms into compression-based server technology developed by Access. By using the high ratios enabled by wavelet compression, the server will facilitate quick image and information distribution, according to the companies.

"The product is designed to work with existing PACS products and information systems to allow the secure distribution of medical images and medical information over the Internet or an intranet, with all of the security features in place," said Howard Pinsky, chief technology officer for Access, of Natick, MA.

The security features will include firewall capabilities, image-level encryption, and user authorization codes. Access to patient information can also be restricted to appropriate physicians, Pinsky said. The companies anticipate demonstrating the product at the 1997 Radiological Society of North America meeting, and making it available in the first quarter of 1998.

AOP Medical/Canon of Gardena, CA, is beta testing a Web-based server this month. A release date is scheduled for August.

Autocyt Group drew heavy booth traffic with its Amicas Web-based image distribution system. Introduced in December, Amicas is an integrated client/server system that allows radiologists and clinicians to access images using a Web browser either over the Internet or intranet. Amicas, which also utilizes wavelet compression, can serve as a teleradiology link between separate organizations, according to the Watertown, MA-based vendor.

Raanana, Israel-based Algotec, which introduced its MediSurf software product for using the Internet and intranets for teleradiology and in-house access to medical images and clinical data at the 1996 RSNA meeting, announced that MediSurf began shipping on July 1. MediSurf utilizes a server connected to a hospital's network and applets written in Sun's Java programming language to allow clinicians to view, edit, and process images from remote locations. GE Medical Systems also showcased Web-Link, an Internet-based image distribution software for referring physicians that it acquired from its purchase of Lockheed Martin Medical Imaging Systems (PNN 5/97).

Medweb, another company active in employing Web protocols in its products, added a DICOM print spooler and high-speed video capture card to its product line. Both products cost $10,000 and are ready to ship, said Pete Kilcommons, president. The San Francisco-based vendor introduced its DICOM-compliant, Netscape plug-in for teleradiology at the 1996 RSNA meeting.

Another important trend in the PACS industry is the growing number of vendors adding Windows NT versions of their PACS software. In the future, PACS will likely be tightly integrated as part of an enterprise-wide information solution. In preparation for this era, hospital IT directors are increasingly demanding systems based on this platform.

At the SCAR meeting, several vendors showed Windows NT versions of PACS software, including ImageLabs, which released its Windows NT and Windows 95/97 versions of its Shared Vision medical image viewing software. Shared Vision, which has received 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, can support multiple monitors with resolutions ranging from a standard desktop (1024 x 768) up to 2K x 2.5K, depending on user requirements, according to the Bedford, MA-based company.

EMED showcased its new line of Windows NT-based PACS Pro/DX diagnostic workstations, while Acuson featured its WorkPro productivity package, which will include a shift to the Windows NT operating system (PNN 6/97).

More SCAR coverage will be provided in the August issue of PNN.