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Case Study

Radiology Associates of Albany

Medical image compression technology

Radiology Associates of Albany, a radiology group associated with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Columbia - Palmyra Medical Center decided on implementing an in-house Teleradiology solution. Radiology Associates has been the sole source provider of radiology services at both hospitals in Albany, Georgia for over 30 years. They have responsibility for not only the main hospital but an outpatient center, Women's Health Center, and a third hospital in Cuthbert, Georgia.

According to the integrator, Steve Bradley of Southern Computer Specialties, Inc., Radiology Associates of Albany could not find a suitable solution because all the prepackaged Teleradiology systems they looked at could not be easily customized to suit their diverse needs. Mr. Bradley was asked by the doctors to install his system after visiting another installation he had installed at a hospital in Warner Robins, Georgia. Since the original installation in 1996, Mr. Bradley has made many custom modifications to both the capture software at the hospital as well as the viewing software used on the Radiologist's workstations. The system originally installed was based on frame capture cards installed in Intel based computers running Microsoft Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. After Phoebe Putney upgraded to a G.E. CTI CT scanner, it was decided that it would be advantageous to be able to window and level on images viewed remotely, similar to the way it is done on the in-house workstations at the hospital. Radiology Associates chose PICTools Medical compression as part of their solution. PICTools Medical offers lossy and lossless image compression technologies.

The new system using PICTools Medical is running on a Intel Pentium II 350mz processor with Microsoft Windows NT Server installed as the operating system. It is connected to a G.E. CTI CT scanner, a G.E. MRI scanner, and to a number of G.E. Sun workstations. The new system uses a DICOM compliant application layer to communicate to all connected modalities. Each doctor has Motorola Bitsurfer Pro ISDN modems attached to their workstations capable of receiving images at speeds in excess of 9800 characters per second.

PICTools Medical compression offered a C/C++ development interface for compressing 16 bit greyscale X-ray images. The benefit of using this technology offers doctors a way to reduce the size of 2 megabyte images down to less than 200 kilobyte images with only minimal loss of resolution. Images can be reduced from 2 megabyes to only 850 kilobytes with zero loss of resolution.

Although the compressed image is not considered to be diagnostic quality for all uses, it can provide the physician with a remote "image preview" without excessive time waiting for an image download. Doctors can now accomplish many of their day-to-day tasks on a computer at home 24 hours a day. In life threatening situations where time is critical; this new ability to provide assistance across town or to rural doctors offices via phone and the internet offers extensive possibilities.

Dr. Gordon Twedt, Chief Radiologist at Phoebe Putney says, "These images are great. It is difficult to tell the difference between a compressed image using PICTools and one viewed on the scanner at the hospital." The Radiologists primarily use Teleradiology to give preliminary interpretations of studies and to give the CT technologists a guideline of what areas to focus on when scanning. Also, certain doctors have areas of specialization within Radiology.With the PICTools software library, doctors located at a different hospital can view a study that addresses these areas of specialty.

Mr. Bradley, the integrator, says, "I am really impressed by the level of acceptance I am finding by the Radiologists as well as the hospital technicians and administration." The radiologists like using the software because it gives them a very high quality image to preview before they view the actual films at the hospital. The hospital technicians like the software because it allows them to get feedback from the Radiologist's in a timely basis. "The hospital administrators are also accepting teleradiolgy very well. I think they realize that allowing a radiologist to see a study almost immediately impacts favorably on patient care."