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Vendor Profile: Acuson evolves Aegis concept with introduction of KinetDx miniPACS


Acuson evolves Aegis concept with introduction of KinetDx miniPACSNew product will support all hospital ultrasound environmentsBroader image management is a goal for both vendors and users of PACS technology. To provide the improved work-flow

Acuson evolves Aegis concept with introduction of KinetDx miniPACSNew product will support all hospital ultrasound environments

Broader image management is a goal for both vendors and users of PACS technology. To provide the improved work-flow benefits of an ultrasound PACS offering that meets the needs of every department using sonography, Acuson has developed KinetDx, a new ultrasound image management concept. The system offers a number of new capabilities, including the ability to view dynamic image clips.

KinetDx, which will be unveiled at this month's Symposium for Computer Applications in Radiology in Houston, will replace Aegis, Acuson's traditional ultrasound miniPACS offering. Under development for over two years, KinetDx features a number of changes from the Aegis architecture. Most notably, echocardiography, radiology, ob/gyn, and vascular ultrasound departments can all be supported with the same server and network components. Aegis could support only one clinical department per system.

In addition to the clinical benefits institutions gain from a broad approach to ultrasound image management, hospital information technology and clinical departments could conceivably share the costs on implementing KinetDx, said Jeffrey Hastings, PACS division manager.

"With this centralized approach to ultrasound image management, IT departments could maintain the centralized server and network, while clinical departments can maintain their own workstations," he said.

In another advance for Acuson, KinetDx can capture, archive, and display dynamic image clips, taking advantage of capabilities on the company's Sequoia and Aspen ultrasound scanners. While this capability would seem of most benefit to cardiologists, it should also prove of interest to radiology users, said Nancy Keuch-Rosa, director of marketing.

In addition, KinetDx provides native DICOM image output, an improvement over Aegis, and supports DICOM patient modality worklist and structured reporting. KinetDx also employs TCP/IP protocols, and its open architecture is a key benefit in integrating the system with another PACS network or other healthcare information systems, Hastings said.

In specific department enhancements, cardiologists will gain the ability to work in a dual-workstation environment, allowing them to take advantage of the benefits of prefetching, Keuch-Rosa said.

KinetDx could also link up with ultrasound systems provided by other vendors. With Hewlett-Packard and ATL Ultrasound having recently added dynamic clip capture capabilities to their ultrasound scanners, KinetDx would be a nice fit with those offerings, she said.

KinetDx employs the Windows NT platform for both workstations and servers, while Aegis used Sun's Unix operating systems for servers, and until recently, Apple's Macintosh platform for workstations. On KinetDx, RAID drives are employed for short-term storage, while digital linear tape will serve as the long-term storage medium.

The enhanced scalability of KinetDx will allow Acuson to market the product to small practices as well as large teaching institutions, Keuch-Rosa said.

Software development for the system took place at Acuson's PACS R&D facility in Ann Arbor, MI, in collaboration with software developer Mitra Imaging of Waterloo, Ontario. Several other nonimaging companies also participated in the process.

The first commercially available component of KinetDx is the Windows NT-based WS3000 workstation, which was actually introduced at last year's RSNA meeting (PNN 1/99). WS3000 offers high-speed review of original-quality, 24-bit color images and allows users to download an entire exam in 4:1, 9:1, or 16:1 format in seconds, according to the company. In addition to serving as the front end for the KinetDx network, WS3000 can be linked to a legacy Aegis system, Hastings said.

Alpha testing for KinetDx is scheduled to begin this summer at Texas Children's Hospital and Pennsylvania Hospital. KinetDx, which will be released worldwide, will be available for general imaging customers in the fourth quarter, with cardiology shipments targeted for the first quarter of 2000, Hastings said.

Pricing will likely be similar to Aegis, ranging from under $100,000 for small labs up to $1 million for a large-scale implementation, Keuch-Rosa said. Aegis will continue to be supported, and customers will be able to upgrade to KinetDx.

Ultrasound History
The launch of KinetDx will mark the end of an era for Acuson. The company debuted Aegis at the 1992 RSNA meeting, where it was touted by market watchers as a well-conceived application of PACS technology that solved ultrasound-specific problems at a reasonable cost. After a somewhat slow start, Aegis sales picked up and the company recorded its 100th general-imaging Aegis installation in March 1996 at the University of Pittsburgh. Today, the company has an installed base of over 180 Aegis customers, and along with Canadian firm ALI Technologies, controls the lion's share of the ultrasound digital image management sector.

In mid-1997, Acuson announced that it would port the Aegis workstation offerings from the Macintosh operating system to the increasingly popular Windows NT platform (PNN 6/97). Shipments of the WS3000 workstation began in the first quarter.

Acuson announced a partnership with Agfa in mid-1998 to integrate the Aegis offering with Agfa's Impax product line (PNN 7/98). In addition to the technology integration effort, both companies are working to formalize a sales and marketing agreement.

Acuson formed a dedicated PACS division in late 1998 (PNN 11/98), consolidating PACS functions such as development, sales, marketing, and support, which had previously resided in other Acuson groups. The division has a head count of about 100 staffers, including 45 engineers at the Ann Arbor, MI, engineering facility.

Earlier this year, Acuson debuted ViewPro-Net, an image review software offering that allows echocardiography departments to remotely access the firm's DIMAQ integrated ultrasound workstation via a local area network (PNN 4/99). ViewPro-Net customers will be able to upgrade to KinetDx, Keuch-Rosa said.

Acuson sells its PACS products through dedicated account representatives and regional digital lab specialists. In addition, its overall sales force helps market the company's PACS capabilities with WebPro, a Web-based image access product. Acuson will also add dynamic viewing capabilities to WebPro.

Future prospects
As a premier ultrasound vendor, Acuson can leverage its sizeable installed base of scanners for sales of its miniPACS offerings. While this advantage is important, the launch of KinetDx will cement the technology side of its business and take advantage of growing customer interest in broader image management offerings. Commercial delivery of these systems won't begin until the fourth quarter, but KinetDx will undoubtedly have a strong impact in the market.

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Key personnel
Jeff Hastings, PACS division manager

Nancy Keuch-Rosa, director of marketing

Rob Royea, director of sales

Dave Rock, manager of engineering

Product line
Aegis ultrasound miniPACS

KinetDx ultrasound miniPACS (work-in-progress)

Product distribution
Direct sales

Mitra Imaging (KinetDx software development) and Agfa (technology integration)

Key installations
Texas Children's Hospital in Houston (radiology department), C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI (pediatric cardiology department), Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia (adult cardiology department), and Cardiology Associates in Birmingham, MI (adult cardiology department)

Strategic focus
With the launch of KinetDx, Acuson can support all ultrasound departments in a hospital with one network. Acuson hopes that the scalability of the offering will help expand the breadth of its PACS installed base beyond the large teaching institutions and major hospitals that have typically deployed Aegis.

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