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Product Category Analysis: Imaging Storage/Retrieval and Viewing Systems

ImagePerhaps no other field has been as grossly over-burdened by technology as the physician practice. “A big challenge for non-institutional providers is funding; they are struggling to fund their own IT investments like e-prescribing, and EMR systems and are getting more pressure from Washington all the time to invest in these technologies,” says Carl Doty, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Be that as it may, doctors are beginning to embrace emerging IT trends in medicine especially those in diagnostic imaging. “There is significant interest in imaging storage, retrieval and viewing,” says Marc Holland, program director of Healthcare Provider IT at IDC. “It’s more commonplace now and we’re seeing most doctors have digital imaging in place or have short-term plans for it.”

Chief among digital imaging conversion trends are routine X-Rays, MRI, CT abstracts, and cardiac imaging. Digitalized pathology, says Holland, is “a lot further off.”

Because institutional medicine has pushed the digital imaging conversion, doctors have become comfortable with the new form in the day to day setting. Not so long ago radiologists handed a wet plate to patients to carry back to the doctor. While the system generally worked, problems arose from loss, damage and delay in getting the information to docs. The new digital forms, being faster and simpler, largely circumvent those problems. Recent progress in digital imaging has also made things considerably more convenient.

“Compression of images makes it feasible to send them over a reasonable network, meaning high-definition isn’t necessarily a requirement, and deliver them to a garden-variety PC reasonably well,” says Holland. As a result, doctors can read images on the PCs they already own and even on handheld devices. “Some surgeons even like images sent to their iPACs or Blackberries to refresh their memories right before stepping into OR,” he says.

In general, doctors are more interested in reading than creating images. “Physicians are increasingly more interested in viewing data and images someone else has, than in creating and sharing data or images digitally themselves,” says Holland. But, that might change soon given the changes digital imaging transfer is bringing about in the ER and in telemedicine.

For example, Doty says there are over 200 telehealth networks connecting over 2500 facilities across the U.S. today, which includes store-and-forward systems as well as live video-conferencing systems. More are in the works, but that’s only part of the story. Telemedicine may soon evolve from rural medicine to a new way to treat chronic patients in any locale with fewer physical trips to the doctor’s office required.

“In terms of products on the horizon…I think there are a number of exciting developments in telehealth space today such as real-time phone- or Web-based physician consults, and remote patient monitoring solutions that connect home based measurement devices over the internet to providers’ offices, improving the management of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes,” says Doty.

Work methods in emergency rooms are changing too and may soon flow over to private practices. “Vendors like Logical Images help diagnose patients in new ways and that trend is slowly moving from ER to doctors’ offices, mainly in primary care,” says Holland. Logical Images offers online clinical intelligence that can be accessed over the web. Essentially, the company helps physicians narrow down the diagnosis by photographic comparison of dermatological manifestations. Obviously, such photos are made and then shared by physicians and institutionalized medicine for such a system to work.

Because physician adoption of imaging storage/retrieval and viewing systems is relatively new, though growing, few vendor stats and evaluations are available at the moment. IDC’s Holland is working on an analytical report he expects to be complete by next quarter. Forrester, too, is studying the market. For now, what little specifics are known are generally provided by professional organizations such as HIMSS Analytics and eHealth Initiative and are not provided by vendor breakdown. MedTech Journal will bring you these, and other professional third-party report findings, as soon as they are available.
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