Alberta rolls out diagnostic imaging system

Alberta’s Regional Shared Health Information Program (RSHIP) is rolling out a diagnostic imaging initiative across two health regions, which will eventually link all health-care facilities in the province.

The organization, which receives funding from federal agency Canada Health Infoway as well as the provincial government, has ordered Kodak DirectView Computed Radiography (CR) and Digital Radiography (DR) systems, which will be installed in 34 hospitals and health-care centres within the David Thompson Health and East Central Health Regions over the next eight months.

“The seven rural regions (in Alberta) have typically done their IT function independently but that was getting kind of redundant,” said Brian Kroeker, director of operations with RSHIP. “And none of them had enough capital to do a really great job.” So they got together to consolidate their efforts, starting off with a basic hospital system and then moving to PACS (Picture Archiving and Communications System) about a year ago. The recent Kodak purchase is largely a diagnostic imaging initiative that will be rolled out over four years. RSHIP is tackling two of the province’s regions this year and another two next year.

“You need to make sure all your equipment is able to create digital images and most of the X-ray equipment out there is based on film,” said Kroeker. “Somehow you have to either replace or convert it.”

Digital files are big files, and to transport them over provincial networks can be slow. For radiology interpretation, he said, it’s good to have images close to the source, so they’re stored locally, but at the same time they’re sent to a data centre in Red Deer, Alta.

“Once it’s stored here, it’s available to everybody (in the region),” said Kroeker. “Ultimately it would be available to Edmonton and Calgary . . . in the next fiscal year.” This means a physician anywhere in the province would be able to access all the historical images for a patient, along with lab reports and medication records.

Kodak’s CR and DR systems will provide digital X-ray image capture for general radiology, emergency, intensive care and other departments within each hospital. Laser imagers output digital image files onto radiographic film, while film digitizers equip facilities to integrate existing film-based radiographs into a digital imaging workflow.  

“This allows the customer to digitize their X-ray images, enabling them to distribute them anywhere within their enterprise,” said Bob Hamilton, director of Canadian sales and service with the Kodak Health Group – Medical Imaging. “So the RSHIP group (is) able to move their images around to where the specialists are going to be.”

An image would be sent to a central repository, or it could be sent to multiple workstations or a network printer. This will eliminate the need for film and chemistry, said Hamilton. And RSHIP won’t have to store film, which, in Canada, is required to be archived for seven years or longer. This has resulted in multiples of files that are archived in off-site storage. “Not only can you save the space required but the cost of having somebody go in and retrieve that information,” he said. “Right now it’s a nightmare.”

But Kroeker said it’s not really about saving money – instead, it’s about improving patient care. “A lot of these acute care facilities are fairly small, maybe 15 or 20 beds,” he said, “so by themselves this is something they couldn’t even dream of taking on.”

Radiologists are a rare resource in Canada, he said, so the easier you can make their jobs, the more efficient they’re going to be – and the more results they’ll be able to examine in a day.

“The ability to get the information from wherever it may be in the region to where the specialist is within a day or within an hour is critical if you think of trauma cases that might occur in a remote area,” said Hamilton.

The ultimate goal is to have a central repository for all of Canada, he said, but that’s probably a good four or five years away.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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