As mentioned in my last Blog entry, I'm attending the 18th Annual Disorders of the Spine conference in Whistler, B.C. This morning I was approached by several surgeons who wanted to vent about a common problem brought on by the increasing prevalence of digital imaging and PACS systems in hospitals and radiology centers. As one orthopedic surgeon explained, patients used to be referred to him and arrive in his office carrying physical copies of their x-ray films. Today, most patients arrive with a CD-ROM of their images burned in the imaging center where their study was performed. On the surface that would seem to be a great step forward and in many ways it is. The imaging center doesn't have to make physical copies of films. The patient doesn't have to carry heavy folders of film around from doctor to doctor. But here's the problem. It seems there isn't a single standard for the digital images. There's not even a standard "viewer" for rendering the images on computer. So, as one surgeon explained, the patients arrive in the office with a CD-ROM that frequently won't load on the doctor's machine, or if it does, the accompanying proprietary "viewer" on the CD will frequently lock up the clinic's computers. The surgeon said, "It can take five or ten minutes to get the damn images up on the screen if I can get them up at all. Multiply that times 20 or 30 patients and imagine how much time I'm wasting and how much that's costing me". He was particularly upset because the trend toward image distribution on CD-ROMs is saving imaging centers lots of money, but those savings are not being passed on to him. He mentioned that often the CD-ROMs come completely unlabeled, and the images stored on them have been burned on in no particular order. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle!", he exclaimed.
So, all you developers out there and manufacturers of digital imaging and PACS systems please take note. There's an opportunity to develop and widely distribute an open-standards viewer that will cut through the chaos of proprietary imaging formats. Let's figure out a way so that everyone in the image distribution chain can benefit from the cost savings and efficiencies made possible by digital imaging.
What do you think? Let us know.
Bill Crounse, MD Healthcare Industry Director Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences.