Sony builds enterprise-wide bridges in digital healthcare

June 28, 2004

The trend toward digital imaging in healthcare has forced many traditional film-based companies to reinvent themselves as purveyors of electronic data management solutions. Many radiologists now buy their PACS and RIS from vendors that previously

The trend toward digital imaging in healthcare has forced many traditional film-based companies to reinvent themselves as purveyors of electronic data management solutions. Many radiologists now buy their PACS and RIS from vendors that previously supplied them with "wet" solutions. No surprise, then, to find a similar transition occurring in the market for image-oriented applications outside radiology.

Tokyo-based telecommunications giant Sony has an established healthcare business selling display monitors, video recorders and players, and printers for imaging applications involving visible light, such as surgery, endoscopy, microscopy, dermatology, and pathology. Increasing digitization of this technology, from CRT to LCD, for instance, and tape-recorders to DVD, has created options for networked access to still images and video data.

Sony is taking advantage of this trend by providing hospitals and healthcare institutions with the complete network infrastructure they need to set up interdepartmental multimedia content distribution. Inclusion of DICOM networks suitable for handling x-ray, CT, MR, and ultrasound opens the possibility of linking operating rooms with digital radiology departments, according to Juergen Thiem, senior manager for healthcare business development, Sony Europe.

"We have the products and the connectivity to build a bridge between the diagnostic part of the hospital in radiology and the therapy side performed by the surgeons," he said. "If you have a problem with your knee, for instance, and a radiological scan shows you have a problem with the meniscus, you may then need an arthroscopic exam. The surgeon will base this procedure on images that were obtained in the radiology department, so it is best for workflow if the radiologists can share their images with surgeons and vice versa."

At Ullevaal University Hospital in Oslo, Sony has delivered a large-scale multimedia content distribution solution integrating video and data networks. The setup includes a facility for routing multiple combinations of video recordings and DICOM images from their sources to teaching or consulting rooms, as well as to external videoconferencing links.

The 1200-bed hospital's two operating theaters have both been equipped with video technology, DICOM storage units, CD writers, and video printers. Clips from endoscopy procedures can be transmitted throughout the hospital on a dedicated video network or captured as DICOM images. The DICOM network has also been designed to cope with the additional network bandwidth required when DICOM is enhanced to support live video.

Although it sells data storage solutions appropriate for digital radiology departments, Sony professes no intention of muscling in on the general PACS market. In terms of image management, the company prefers to set up its own solution for the OR or endoscopy clinic, for example, and then use DICOM networking to facilitate interdepartmental digital communication. Its solutions are vendor-independent and can connect with any DICOM-compatible system or medical peripheral.

"We are building a kind of PACS for the visible light world that we can link to an existing PACS for radiological images," Thiem said.

The groundwork that existing PACS vendors have laid in radiology is making it easier for Sony to sell its content distribution solutions to the visible light market.

"It has taken a few years for PACS and networked configurations to take off in the radiological market," he said. "It took some time to convince end users to move into that kind of filmless or digital environment, but I'm 100% sure that the coming generation of doctors who are more used to an IT environment will follow this route."

The next step will be to develop network connectivity outside hospitals for real-time telehealth applications, such as telesurgery.

"First we are getting networks inside hospitals, then we will have links between hospitals, and the future will be to have the homes of individual people connected to a health service platform," Thiem said.