Wam!Net plans archiving services to ease transition to digital domainFirm will also provide stand-alone image transport servicesIt's no secret that archiving is one of the most challenging elements of implementing a PACS network.

Wam!Net plans archiving services to ease transition to digital domainFirm will also provide stand-alone image transport services

It's no secret that archiving is one of the most challenging elements of implementing a PACS network. Maintaining a long-term archive represents a considerable investment, and with storage technology evolving at a high rate, healthcare institutions run the risk of buying into technology that could become obsolete. In addition, customers planning a move to PACS have to decide what to do with all the film maintained in their film library.

One company that hopes to make archiving and PACS a more headache-free proposition is Wam!Net Medical. The Minneapolis-based firm is beta testing a digital image archiving service that it believes can reduce the capital investment required for PACS by as much as 25% to 40%. Using the company's resources, healthcare institutions could completely outsource their long-term archiving needs to Wam!Net.

"The PACS vendor needs to provide the short-term storage, but for long-term redundant archiving, it's better to offload those images to us," said Mark Hunter, director of marketing.

With the service, DICOM-compatible workstations push images headed for the long-term archive through a Wam!Net wide-area network to off-site storage facilities maintained by the company. To accomplish this goal, Wam!Net has partnered with Canadian PACS software developer Mitra Imaging, which is working with Wam!Net to develop workstation work-flow tools to support transmission and retrieval of images.

Wam!Net storage facilities, which employ redundant arrays of inexpensive disks (RAID), are ready in Minneapolis and Las Vegas, with another facility planned for Brussels, Belgium. Storage will be replicated among the sites, providing for redundancy and fault tolerance, according to the company. When needed, images can be accessed from workstations at the hospital, Hunter said.

Wam!Net services are charged on a per-image fee. Customers would not need to purchase any hardware, and the company would install a network access device (NAD). The NAD serves as the link between a hospital's local area network and the wide-area network, and functions as a staging area for transmission and reception of DICOM data.

Storage services for U.S. customers will be available by the end of the second quarter or early third quarter, Hunter said. The company hopes to have European services ready early next year and Japanese services later in the year.

Testing of both the digital storage system and the transport system that brings the image to the archive is being conducted at Waukesha Memorial Hospital in Waukesha, WI. The digital transport service was introduced in February, and is available for transmission of both radiology and cardiology images, according to the company. In addition to serving as the transmission medium for the storage offering, the transport service will be marketed as a stand-alone service for healthcare institutions that are interested in transmitting medical images to other facilities, but want to avoid tying up WAN bandwidth with large image files, Hunter said.

"Hospital information systems networks today aren't set up to handle radiology images," he said. "With the digital transport service, we can bring in a network that can handle the heavy lifting of these images and keep the large weights off their network bandwidth."

The company landed its first contract for the digital transport service last month from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which will transmit computed radiography images from a site in Port Isabella, TX, to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. The INS service is expected to be up and running in 30 days, Hunter said.

Graphic arts background

Wam!Net was founded in 1994, focusing initially on the graphic arts marketplace, where it has provided electronic delivery services for companies such as Time Inc., J.C. Penney, Walt Disney Co., and Macy's. Believing its experience in providing digital transport services would translate well to the healthcare market, Wam!Net decided to launch a medical division in November, and introduced Wam!Net Medical to the imaging marketplace at last year's RSNA meeting.

While Wam!Net may not be well known in healthcare, the company does enjoy the backing of a few large companies. Telecommunications giant MCI WorldCom has maintained a strategic and financial relationship with Wam!Net since 1996, with Wam!Net able to access MCI WorldCom's infrastructure, telephony technologies, and high-bandwidth carrier services. Last month, MCI WorldCom added to its involvement with an additional $25 million investment consisting of conversion of existing debt and $15 million in cash. In addition to its MCI WorldCom relationship, Wam!Net works with 500 other telecommunications companies around the world to deliver its services.

Workstation developer Silicon Graphics entered into a long-term strategic alliance with Wam!Net in March and made an equity investment of $75 million in a combination of real estate and cash. SGI of Mountain View, CA, will receive an 8.6% stake in Wam!Net and, following receipt of regulatory approvals, will be represented on Wam!Net's board of directors. Continuing a relationship already in place, SGI will be formally designated Wam!Net's preferred provider of computing systems and related services for the next four years. In addition, SGI will co-market Wam!Net managed data services through its distribution channels and sales force to certain markets, including healthcare.

Wam!Net Medical has its own dedicated sales force to market its offerings directly to end users, but is also interested in securing OEM relationships with PACS firms, said Gary Jader, vice president and general manager of Wam!Net Medical.

Future prospects

By focusing on an aspect of PACS that is ripe for outsourcing, Wam!Net may have found a solid niche in the healthcare market. Although it's too early to predict certain success for the firm, Wam!Net will surely be a company to watch in 1999 and into the new millennium.

Wam!Net Medical

6100 West 110th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55438
fax: 612/886-5101

Key Personnel
Gary Jader, vice president and general manager

Mark Hunter, director of marketing

Amy Laramy, professional services manager

Roger Swigart, director of sales

Wam!Base digital image archiving service (work-in-progress)

Wam!Net digital image transport service

Product distribution
Direct sales

Mitra Imaging

Key installations
Waukesha Memorial Hospital in Waukesha, WI; and University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore

Strategic focus
Wam!Net assists healthcare institutions in moving to a filmless environment by allowing them to outsource all their long-term image storage at Wam!Net warehouses located around the world. In addition, Wam!Net believes its digital transport services will be of use to hospitals interested in transmitting their medical images over a wide-area network.