Wam!Net seeks PACS niche as archiving services provider

Firm hopes to help users move to PACSHealthcare institutions contemplating a conversion to digital image management face the difficult challenge of how to handle the storage component of PACS. Maintaining a long-term archive represents a

Firm hopes to help users move to PACS

Healthcare institutions contemplating a conversion to digital image management face the difficult challenge of how to handle the storage component of PACS. Maintaining a long-term archive represents a considerable investment, and with storage technology evolving at a high rate, obsolescence is a definite risk.

Such a technology dynamic can’t help but create opportunities, so it’s not surprising that a company has decided to offer an archiving outsource service to hospitals. Wam!Net Medical, the medical division of digital file delivery firm Wam!Net, is beta testing a digital image archiving service that will allow DICOM-compatible workstations to push images ready for the long-term archive through a Wam!Net wide-area network to off-site storage facilities maintained by the company.

The Minneapolis firm believes that its digital image archiving service can reduce the capital investment required for PACS by as much as 25% to 40%. A dedicated sales force has been set up to market Wam!Net’s offerings directly to end users, although the company is also interested in securing OEM relationships with PACS firms, said Gary Jader, vice president and general manager of Wam!Net Medical.

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 participating hospitals, said Mark Hunter, director of marketing. Wam!Net has partnered on the project 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 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.

Medical image 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 Wam!Net’s 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.”

Founded in 1994, Wam!Net focused initially on the graphic arts marketplace, where it has provided electronic delivery services for companies such as Time Inc., JC Penney, Walt Disney, 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, including telecommunications giant MCI WorldCom of Jackson, MS, and workstation developer SGI of Mountain View, CA. SGI has been designated Wam!Net’s preferred provider of computing systems and related services for the next four years. In addition, SGI has rights to co-market Wam!Net managed data services to certain markets, including healthcare.