Once upon a time, a patient could walk home after a radiological consult, carrying his x-ray pictures under his arm. Thanks to the emergence of the electronic patient record, this image will soon belong to the past. The health record, next to the patient's medical history, now also incorporates all the relevant images. Advanced digitisation enables the user-friendly storage of the patient record, always ready to be consulted or transmitted to another hospital whenever the need occurs.
Classic x-ray imaging techniques have always been a major element in Agfa's activities and still continue to be in 60% of all hospital diagnoses. Yet, in the past ten years the company's Department of Medical Imaging has made a few heavy investments in digital products. To date, x-rays remain a vital method to analyse the inner human body. Usually, the results are stored on film but digital alternatives are gradually conquering the hospital. Experiments with computer radiology (CR) for instance, allow clinicians to store the image on a phosphorous screen to be viewed with specialised equipment on a computer screen.
Unlike CR-technology, the superior but extremely expensive direct radiology (DR) technology has not been brought to market yet. With this method, the image is being digitised directly. In the meanwhile, Agfa has optimised the CR-technology in such a way to enable clinicians to obtain near DR-quality, allowing them to lower the radiation dose to protect the patient. Whatever imaging method the hospital is using - x-rays, scans, magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasound - the images have to be printed, viewed on screen, archived and transmitted via an intranet or the Internet.
To this purpose, Agfa has developed a picture archiving and communication system, called IMPAX. The Imaging Group started to work on it at the end of the eighties and has designed the fourth generation of this software by now. Different versions have been issued to the market for use in private doctor's practices, small and large hospitals. In the United States, PACS systems are emerging rapidly in the hospitals, like in Elmhurst Hospital for example, but there are other countries in Europe which are seriously lagging behind when it comes to digital picture archival systems. More news on filmless hospitals is available in the VMW February 1999 article Flat digital detector for radiographic imaging minimizes patient's radiation dose.