X-rays that go places fast Network: Through a network of nine hospitals set to go online this year, radiologists will be able to send and receive digitized X-rays quickly over fiber-optic lines.

June 10, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Sometime this fall, X-rays taken in Westminster will zip through fiber-optic lines and be viewed moments later by specialists in Baltimore, Randallstown, Pikesville and dozens of other places in the metropolitan area.

Through a network of nine hospitals set to go online later this year, radiologists will send and receive digitized X-rays, magnetic resonance images, ultrasound readings and nuclear medicine scans. Eventually, the system will include 30 physicians' offices.

The network, costing between $2 million and $3 million, is being put together by Advanced Radiology, a Woodlawn-based consortium of radiologists formed last year. When it goes into operation it will be the area's largest so-called teleradiology connection.

"This is the kind of system that will allow efficiencies in the delivery of medical care. There's a very strong cost-consciousness," said Dr. Michael L. Sherman, president of Advanced Radiology, the state's biggest medical-imaging company with 72 radiologists, 29 offices and about 520 employees.

Advanced Radiology is developing the system with Bell Atlantic Corp., the Eastman Kodak Co.'s Health Imaging Division and Consort Technologies Inc. of Atlanta.

The system works by having a radiology technician place film in a digitizer, which converts the image into the bits of zeroes and ones that can be sent through telephone lines.

Sherman said the images transmitted through fiber-optic cables among hospitals and doctors' offices will have such high resolution that experts will be able to diagnose medical problems as clearly from computer screens as they would from film.

He said the system will be capable of sending and receiving images through fiber-optic lines around the nation and the world but will focus on the facilities within its network.

"We basically saw the need for a new type of infrastructure which would allow us to enhance our services throughout the entire metropolitan area, so we could get the information to referring doctors quicker and use our specialists to read complicated data," Sherman said.

He said experts in such areas as neurology and orthopedics will be able to read and interpret images from one of the locations, which include a central reading area at Pomona Square in Pikesville.

"We could have one radiologist reading X-rays for several hospitals in the middle of the night," said Dr. Bennett Sweren, the consortium's chief of teleradiology.

Sweren said the system would virtually eliminate the need to manually carry images from one facility to another and would enable specialists to generate reports faster.

Digitized images will be stored on computer disks.

He said costs to health consumers would be defrayed because the company would need fewer radiologists.

"That's not to say we have to fire anybody, but maybe we'll have to hire less," Sweren said. The company's staff has expanded from 52 radiologists since it was formed last year through a merger of five radiology practices.

Teleradiology is one form of telemedicine that has been used for about a decade, with more and larger networks being developed in recent years.

Last November, Bell Atlantic and other telecommunications firms set up systems for health care companies.

"This is a very hot topic," said Steve Fritz, a professor of radiology at the University of Maryland, who said the Advanced Radiology network would be unmatched in Maryland.

Bell Atlantic is in the process of installing the high-speed data network required to transmit the images for Advanced Radiology.

Kodak's Health Imaging Division is supplying the film digitizers, high-resolution workstations and software.

The hospitals that will be connected in the first phase of the system are those where Advanced Radiology now provides radiology services -- Carroll County General Hospital, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, North Arundel Hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center, Franklin Square Hospital, Harbor Hospital Center, Liberty Medical Center, Church Hospital and Northwest Hospital Center.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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