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New medical imaging technologies shown at busy RSNA 2015

Medical imaging vendors showcased new IT systems, as prospective users roamed the bustling show floor at the RSNA 2015 conference and attended educational sessions.

CHICAGO -- McKesson Corp. is widely known as a vendor of EHR systems, but the $137 billion San Francisco-based healthcare company is really a diversified enterprise, with a big presence in the medical imaging world.

Executives from more than 650 companies and organizations, including McKesson, were here to woo customers and showcase new products at the 101st Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, RSNA 2015 -- the continent's biggest healthcare tech conference.

Final attendance was about 55,000 last year, and 47,060 registered in advance this year, according to RSNA officials. Exhibitors at RSNA 2015 took up 420,100 square feet at the sprawling McCormick Place convention center.

Urgent image cases flagged

Before the show started, Evan Kaminer, M.D., director of imaging at Nyack Hospital in Nyack, N.Y. -- a McKesson user and development partner -- told SearchHealthIT that McKesson's new workflow intelligence system has made life easier for his 18 radiologists.

"It's a very unique piece of software," Kaminer said of McKesson's Conserus Workflow Intelligence system, which was installed at Nyack Hospital last March.

The McKesson system prioritizes and assigns imaging studies, so staff members know which need urgent attention, and starts reminding radiologists with alerts when unattended cases become critical.

The automated work list manager "allows us to solve a problem before it becomes an exception," Kaminer said.

At the McKesson booth on the bustling RSNA 2015 show floor, George Kovacs, executive director of the company's imaging and workflow solutions business unit based in Richmond, B.C., said his group aims for end users in health IT workflow, quality and analytics.

As opposed to RSNA regulars that produce high-end hardware systems and new imaging software to go with them, Kovacs said McKesson's imaging software is designed to be vendor-neutral, and work with any radiology picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) or vendor-neutral archives (VNA), including those of McKesson's competitors.

"The intent is to give something to the larger imaging community," Kovacs said. "A really important vision for us is interoperability."

New IBM system garners attention

Meanwhile, across the exhibit floor, Merge Healthcare Inc. -- one of the hottest medical imaging companies after its recent $1 billion-plus acquisition by IBM Watson Health -- drew droves of radiologists to its flashy demo of a system under construction with IBM.

Dubbed "Code Name: Avicenna," the system has not yet been released, or even sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval, but it has drawn great interest for its marriage of Watson's cloud-based cognitive computing technology with many images from Chicago-based Merge's vast VNA storehouse.

As envisioned, Watson will also search through its own historical image archives to come up with illness cases that are nearly identical or closely comparable, and delivers to radiologists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists and other specialists highly tuned clinical decision support.

IBM called Merge -- which, for its own part, claims to be the world's largest VNA provider, with more than 30 billion images in its encrypted cloud -- the "eyes" of the Watson supercomputing engine.

Steven Tolle, Merge's chief strategy officer and head of the company's Watson integration team, said a viable commercial system should be available within a year.

Tolle also directs Merge's iConnect Network Services. According to the company, the system enables hospitals and imaging centers to exchange imaging orders, automate prior insurance authorization and receive patient results from providers connected to electronic health networks, such as Surescripts Clinical Network Services or Emdeon Clinical Exchange.

We have this massive [image] index sitting on our cloud.
Steven Tollechief strategy officer, Merge Healthcare

As Tolle explained it, the cloud-based Merge system follows a medical imaging order as it flows from a radiology information system (RIS) to a PACS to be read, and then to a VNA, which holds it.

"We have this massive [image] index sitting on our cloud," Tolle said.

Vicki Richter, facility manager of Imaging Specialists of Charleston, a clinic in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said the clinic had already been using a Merge RIS and VNA, and installed iConnect in July after piloting it to handle insurance authorizations.

Staff members at the clinic, including 18 radiologists, "love it" because it automated tasks they had to spend time on before, Richter said.

On-site and referring doctors can log in to the clinic's servers and look at an image at any time by clicking on a link to the image on the encrypted system.

Imaging Specialists is a test site for Merge, and in that role, the clinic plans to stay with Merge as it develops new and upgraded systems, Richter said.

"We've made a huge commitment here to staying with the latest version," she said.

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