During the HPCN Europe 1998/ITIS Conference, Domenico Conforti, researcher at the Department of Electronics, Informatics and Systems (DEIS) at the University of Calabria, presented two telemedical software packages for computer aided diagnosis. Both Computer Aided Medical Diagnosis (CAMD) for breast cancer and TeleEEG to support the EEG data analysis and transmission are being realised in the overall framework of the Euromed project. Let's have a closer look at the purpose, features, strategies and results of the TeleEEG initiative with relationship to the quality improvement of health care.
EEG actually stands for Electro-encephalography by means of an electro-medical device which allows to capture the brain electrical activity. The brain signals are transmitted via a set of electrodes, placed on the scalp. Their amplitude is plotted on paper as a function of time. The EEG data permits the physician to detect episodic brain disorders, such as epilepsy, and to locate the brain regions which are responsible for the occurring abnormalities. There exist two sorts of EEG machines. The analogue devices simultaneously capture and plot the EEG signals whereas the digital ones are able to store the data in order to perform basic operations such as filing, visualising, processing and printing. Only the latter offer suited output for a software application.
Physicians are struggling with two major problems with regard to EEG diagnosis. Since EEG data recording can last for several hours, it is difficult to locate the critical events in the process. Second, there is a total absence of standards, so digital EEG equipment produced by different vendors often is completely incompatible. Therefore, all parameters relevant to EEG data acquisition and analysis need urgent standardisation. The DEIS research team has defined an ASCII file format to store EEG data provided by different digital EEG machines. Software filters convert the raw EEG data into this standardised file format. To exchange the data among the various medical centres for tele-consulting, TeleEEG makes use of standard telephone lines or the Internet.
The TeleEEG application runs on both the Windows95 and the Windows NT platform. The system integrates acquisition, visualisation, transmission and management of EEG data and related patient information by means of a user-friendly interface. In fact, any physician is able to access the EEG data of his patients from whatever location, provided he disposes of a PC with a Web browser and an Internet connection. A unique personal code is allocated to each patient in the local database as well as a medical centre code, which only can be modified in the database in which it is hosted. Other medical facilities however can add notes to the apposite field in order to facilitate the tele-consultation.
The TeleEEG prototype has a modular structure, in which each software component performs its specific function. Pilot installations are being implemented in the neuro-physiology departments of a selected number of Italian hospitals to test the security and speed in the mutual exchange and sharing of EEG data. Further activities imply optimised collaborative interaction with end-user medical institutions to tune the prototypes on a large variety of clinical cases. In this way, it will be possible to file and manage the medical data of patients suffering from serious epileptic attacks, in a standardised way in order to perform researches on historical data. You can find a full account of the TeleEEG software tool at the Parcolab site of the University of Calabria. The May issue of Virtual Medical Worlds Magazine includes a story on the CAMD project.