Spanish telemedicine center wins U.K. radiology contract

November 24, 2003

Radiologists in Spain are getting ready to report images acquired at a U.K. National Health Service hospital. The Barcelona-based European Telemedicine Clinic has an 18-month contract to bolster onsite radiology services at the U.K. district hospital

Radiologists in Spain are getting ready to report images acquired at a U.K. National Health Service hospital. The Barcelona-based European Telemedicine Clinic has an 18-month contract to bolster onsite radiology services at the U.K. district hospital with a remote primary reading setup.

Teleradiology contracts with more NHS hospitals could follow if the scheme proves successful.

The European Telemedicine Clinic has been providing pan-European teleradiology since March 2003, according to David Bäckström, the clinic's general manager. This service followed 15 months of intensive preparation to address a range of ethical, legal, political, and technical issues.

Three Swedish public hospitals currently send results of routine imaging and emergency scans to the clinic using a secure 2 MB point-to-point connection. Radiologists working in Spain then log in directly to the Scandinavian hospitals' RIS to input their diagnostic assessment. Trials at a U.K. hospital, using a similar technical arrangement, are scheduled for January 2004. Remote reporting should begin in March.

Clinic executives chose Scandinavia and the U.K. as prime targets for the teleradiology service because of the regions' problems with staff shortages. Spain has more qualified doctors than medical jobs, making it an ideal site for the clinic's reading and reporting facilities, Bäckström said. The enterprise is being funded by the company's founders, with added support from the Barcelona city council and the Catalonian regional government.

The European Telemedicine Clinic employs a combination of Spanish radiologists and specialists from other countries to interpret CT, MR, and conventional x-ray data, Bäckström said. The clinic pledges to report routine radiology scans within 24 to 36 hours and emergency exams within three hours. All reports are delivered in the client's native language.

The sheer number of images sent from different hospitals should enable the clinic to become a center of subspecialty expertise, according to Bäckström. Although this could prove attractive for smaller hospitals, suspicion about offshore teleradiology will focus attention on the clinic's diagnostic accuracy. All images sent to the European Telemedicine Clinic are double-read, either by a subspecialty radiologist at the Barcelona clinic or by an external expert.

"We cannot afford to make any mistakes at all," he said. "That is why we have senior radiologists double-read the images."

In addition to launching pan-European teleradiology into the U.K., clinic managers plan to start a tele-ophthalmology and telepathology service during 2004.

"Our ambition is to create the first virtual hospital, a center of excellence in telemedicine," Bäckström said. "We want to be recognized as the first telemedicine center in Europe and be at the frontiers of using that technology to improve quality in European healthcare."