A Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) is an integral part of the smooth, timely and quality delivery of healthcare in any medical setting today. Not only are they integral, but they are critical to the clinical and business aspects of radiology practice as we know it. However, PACS has long faced challenges in providing this digital image support to diagnostic modalities such as X-rays, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], Positron emission tomography (PET) and teleradiology. The main problem has always been the availability of sufficient bandwidth (load and speed) ….. at a reasonable cost ….. to support the growing demand for fast, easy web access by healthcare providers. As Medical Imagery becomes more and more digitized … with bandwidth improvements, communication will become faster and easier and it will be possible to transfer heavier studies in less time and with high quality.
An internal PACS (facility owned) utilizes a common infrastructure across all digital imaging modalities and provides image storage and archiving … with recall if needed … across an entire medical facility or campus. By establishing a web-enabled distribution system, a PACS facility is able to provide direct image access to the direct radiology department and to the full range of clinicians and specialists, especially surgeons and referring physicians. To ensure that the functionality is at the high level required, this means that we are confronted with the high bandwidth requirement of the supported modalities.
Even an Application Service Provider (ASP) company that hosts, manages applications, and rents access to images from a centrally managed facility is not immune to bandwidth concerns. ASP providers enable an institution to outsource the infrastructure, management, support and maintenance of information technology applications. As defined by the ASP Industry Consortium, the ASP service is designed to “deliver and manage data center applications and computer services remotely to multiple users over the Internet or a private network”. therein lies their challenge … a high bandwidth requirement delivered over often a small difference on an application basis.
PACS manufacturers have developed numerous solutions to work around the bandwidth problem. They have compressed images, supported standard network interfaces and protocols such as Ethernet and TCP / IP, and implemented high-bandwidth local area networks (LANs) to link hospitals or refer physicians in a confined environment. But how do they handle bandwidth when settings are separated by tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, especially since images have gotten bigger and more complicated?
Some PACS vendors rely on communications infrastructure in an area that varies with the bandwidth available from the local telephone company and the price a hospital is willing to pay, said Frederick Wagner, PACS manager for Toshiba. Other PACS providers offer streaming technology that transports high-quality images in real time over any bandwidth, including telephone lines and company-wide LANs.
Another contributing solution is Real Time Media’s Pixels-on-Demand technology. This technology speeds processing by capturing images from archives or PACS storage without waiting for preprocessing, instantly streams data from selected areas of interest and first delivers the most visually important features of an image to the viewer.
The underlying solution to the bandwidth problem goes beyond even system technologies, network interfaces, image compression and infrastructure protocols. It is to provide the correct bandwidth capacity (circuits) … at a reasonable cost … by using the fiber optic infrastructure available in the United States. Enabling direct fiber connectivity internally, or between hospitals and distant data centers, is the most cost effective application of bandwidth. By using Optical Carrier (Sonet Ring) bandwidth (probably OC3 or OC48) or Gigabit Ethernet, a medical facility can optimize its Local Area Network (LAN). While ASP organizations can scale their Application Service Provider (ASP) service to both small imaging centers and large, widespread health systems.
To find a fiber optic infrastructure provider that can provide the right bandwidth solution for your medical imaging application … I highly recommend taking advantage of the free consultation available from an independent bandwidth broker such as DS3-Bandwidth.com.