When Nuance Communications Inc. recently trumpeted that its new PowerShare network had reached a milestone in fostering the exchange of 3 billion medical images over the past five years, it was a sign that the days of MRIs and CAT scans being handed around on CD-ROMs and DVDs are fading quickly. It jumped into the market space occupied for several years by vendors such as DR Systems Inc. and lifeImage Inc.
Digital image transfer is here now -- whether on cloud-based networks like the one Nuance acquired when it bought medical image sharing firm Accelarad in April 2014, or on enterprise systems for the same purpose.
"We're a small, rural hospital in the middle of nowhere, where even email is an adventure for a lot of people," said Josh Pavlovec, administrator of the picture archiving communications system at Children's of Alabama, a Nuance customer. "As the only pediatric hospital in Alabama, we're on the receiving end of patients from across the state and the Southeast, and when we used to get stuff on discs, we'd get discs that were corrupted or not written in the right format."
Now, Pavlovec said, Nuance's iteration of the original Accelarad system makes it easy to import all kinds of images, from MRIs to X-rays. Indeed, it was the product's ease of use that is keeping him with Nuance after the Accelarad acquisition. With the network, Children's processes some 130,000 digital images a year, he said.
Cutting out unnecessary tests, radiation exposures
Two more benefits of digital medical image sharing are cutting down on duplicate radiology sessions by eliminating the need to shoot more pictures and use more contrast media when the old physical media broke down or didn't make it to the hospital, and removing the added cost of doing it again, Pavlovec said.
For Nuance, it's axiomatic that the disc era is, well, antiquated.
"It is the Stone Age. Now, we have surgeons running across the street with a CD," said Christy Murfitt, director of diagnostic solutions marketing for the Burlington, Mass., company. "We are really migrating from the Stone Age to the Modern Age leveraging sharing in the cloud."
What Nuance is essentially trying to do is to marry its customer base of 1,600 radiology providers -- comprising 500,000-plus clinicians -- that use its PowerScribe voice recognition system built on the Dragon Medical engine, to the Accelarad-created network, according to Alex Hu, an analyst who tracks Nuance for Avondale Partners LLC in Nashville, Tenn.
Upside to transcription business
In addition to its ease-of-use calling card, the company "is essentially leveraging its existing investment … by providing a secure health information exchange between multiple providers via the PowerShare network," Hu said in an email.
M*Modal, Nuance's main competitor, is more focused on manual transcription, Hu said.
Meanwhile, Nuance's Murfitt noted that Accelarad's 2,000 customers are now Nuance users who could also be receptive to using the company's popular voice-driven radiology transcription system. The radiologists who already use Nuance to produce reports could now share them on the cloud network as well.
"That's where we really saw the opportunity," Murfitt said.
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