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Sohard finds scalability easy with Web-based networking


German company plans expansion into full PACSWeb-based distribution has long been viewed as a convenient, cost-effective means of widening access to digital images hospital-wide. As integration becomes the watchword in PACS, and

German company plans expansion into full PACS

Web-based distribution has long been viewed as a convenient, cost-effective means of widening access to digital images hospital-wide. As integration becomes the watchword in PACS, and increasing emphasis is placed on sharing medical information, interest in such systems seems likely to rise. But would a Web-based solution be sufficient to cope with multi-user demands in a large-scale institution? No problem, according to Oliver Lehner, vice president of marketing for medical products at the German IT firm Sohard. There is just one prerequisite. The hospital must have installed Sohard's Radin Web-based communication system.

Radin software is marketed and sold through the Radin Group, a subsidiary of Sohard. Founded in 1988 to offer software and hardware solutions (hence the name), Sohard has interests in three fields: medical products, industrial IT applications, and embedded software. The split weighs heavily in favor of the medical products division, which accounts for 40% to 50% of annual turnover at present.

"The plan is to increase this figure to 60% to 70%, because we think we have a good product," Lehner said. "For the next few years, we plan to grow by 35% to 50% each year."

The Radin Web-based software is sold as a part-PACS solution through 15 partner companies, some of whom repackage it as an OEM version within their own product portfolio. Key partners include Siemens Medical Solutions, Rogan-Delft, Ferrania, IMCO, and Integrated Modular Systems. Radin version 2.0, and the equivalent OEM versions, are currently running in more than 500 institutions worldwide, providing radiology and cardiology departments, hospital wards, and external medical practices with access to medical images.

A key selling point of the software is its scalability. The product is installed in clinics where PACS access is limited to as few as three concurrent users. It also serves users at institutions where as many as 500 medical staff are logged on at once. This large-scale simultaneous usability relies on a cluster-server approach, whereby individual servers have responsibility for different functions. The servers are divided into an interface layer for DICOM interfacing, a computing layer for data compression, a persistency layer for data storage, and a Web layer for data distribution.

"Typically, if there were 30 to 40 DICOM connections inputting to Web servers, and 500 concurrent users, the workload would be too much for one server or even two mirrored servers," Lehner said. "But we have come up with a way to handle this."

Radin is the only IT solution able to provide PACS access to this number of users at once, Lehner said. He suggests that it could be another two years before competing products catch up. In the meantime, Lehner is keen to capitalize on this advantage and market Radin as a viable tool for HIS, where images are displayed as part of an electronic patient record.

"When you talk about HIS, you are talking about adding more users," he said. "One university in Germany, for example, has more than 1000 PCs connected to the HIS. Everybody wants to see images, so this cluster-server approach is really key."

With version 3.0, scheduled to launch in summer 2003, the Radin Group hopes to reposition itself as a full PACS provider. The new system will comprise three modules: Radin.online (data storage for instant access and communication with modalities/IT systems), Radin.archive (long-term storage on optical and magnetic media), and Radin.Web (Web-based image communication). Radin version 3.0 will be displayed as a work-in-progress at the European Congress of Radiology next month.

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