Health care professionals for years have been pushing for more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to access their medical images.
The days of paper reports and film are slowly giving way to new computer-based digital imaging capabilities. However, most of these processes require systems especially made for receiving the images-ranging from X-rays to CT scans to MRIs-or computers with the capability of handling large downloads.
The result can be systems that are expensive to buy and maintain, with the patient data being kept on computers being handled by doctors and nurses, said Peter Bascom, vice president of engineering at Merge Healthcare, a company that specializes in medical imaging software and services. It also drives up the need for greater computer storage capacity.
Merge has come out with a solution designed to offer medical professionals an efficient and fast way of accessing the digital medical images while increasing the security around the data. The company in November rolled out Cedara WebAccess, a Web-based solution that lets doctors and nurses view medical images from any device that has Internet access and a Web browser.
It’s also done in a thin-client environment: The medical image is housed on a secure, back-end server-either at the client’s site or hosted by Merge-and secured through the Internet device, whether it’s a PC, laptop or Web-enabled PDA, which Bascom said makes the setup more secure and easier to manage. It also eliminates the need to rapidly grow storage capacity.
“Using any browser-we let you use [Google’s] Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox-you can access the image,” he said. “There’s no install [of any software] necessary on the client machine. All you need is an account on the server. … The underlying theme is being able to gain access to the images anywhere.”
Merge announced Cedara WebAccess Nov. 25, then showed it off the week of Dec. 1 at the Radiological Society of North America conference in Chicago.
The move came a few weeks after Merge introduced Merge Mobile for the iPhone, an application that lets medical professionals and patients view digital medical images on their Apple iPhone or iPod Touch. Cedara WebAccess expands that capability to all Web-enabled devices, including PDAs that compete with the iPhone.
IBMs Rational Telelogic Key to Cedara WebAccess
Key to creating Cedara WebAccess-development started in early 2008-was Merge’s use of IBM Rational’s Telelogic Synergy and Change management tools. Merge has been a Telelogic customer since before IBM’s $745 million purchase of the company in April, Bascom said.
“The Telelogic suite of tools allowed us to develop [the software] and let us track the changes accordingly,” he said.
The Synergy and Change tools let Merge developers simplify the process of managing changes throughout the life of the application. They were able to collaboratively manage, automate and visualize the development and delivery of the Cedara WebAccess software.
Syed Raza, product marketing manager for IBM Rational Telelogic, said Merge was like most customers in that it used Telelogic Synergy and Change together. About 80 percent of customers use the two products in combination, and many use them with the Telelogic Doors requirements management platform.
Telelogic Synergy offers software configuration management capabilities for such artifacts as source code, documentation and images related to software development. The task-based product lets users keep track of all changes made to a code base.
Telelogic Change is a Web-based change management product used for request tracking and reporting, enabling customers to automate and manage changes to such aspects as software applications, product requirements and business goals.
“The task-based nature of the [Synergy] product is what was attractive to us,” Bascom said.
The product made it easy for developers to see whether a change to the software had been made, and whether that change broke anything that needed to be fixed, he said.
Another important aspect of Synergy was the ability to create multiple databases for customers that can sync with Merge’s own database. IBM’s Raza said that ability is particularly important for customers working across multiple groups.
With Telelogic Change, Merge was able to create a specific log that helped keep track of change requests and defects during the development process, Bascom said. In addition, the tool was easily customizable for what Merge wanted to do.
“We didn’t have to change our process for it to work for us,” he said. “We could change the tool to fit what we wanted to do.”
Raza said being able to track changes and fix defects is a key part of creating useful software.
“The idea [behind the Telelogic tools] is to capture and manage all sorts of change in your company,” he said.
The tools, according to Bascom, enabled Merge to assure customers that the Cedara WebAccess technology not only meets their needs for getting products to end users in a fast and efficient fashion, but that the product also complies with the demands of the various federal regulations governing privacy and security.
Merge is just beginning to roll out Cedara WebAccess now, he said, though there was a lot of interest from attendees at the Radiological Society event in Chicago. Cedara WebAccess is being sold through Merge’s OEM business; Merge will sell it to other parties, which will then sell it to their customers.
Merge expects the first deployments of the technology to begin late this year or early in the first quarter of 2009.
Sometime next year, Merge will be adding the capability of creating three-dimensional digital images from multiplanar reformation images, or MPRs. MPRs offer two-dimensional image slices, Bascom said. Through the new capabilities Merge will add to Cedara WebAccess in 2009, health care providers will be able to navigate through 3-D images created from 2-D MPRs.
“It’s a way of viewing 3-D data in a 2-D [environment],” he said.