If physicians want to use moving pictures of the heart for remote consultation, they have to compress the images for real time transmission and tolerate a certain percentage of quality loss and sharpness. Hewlett Packard's Medical Products Group has now designed an integrated tele-echo solution, which is able to reconstruct the images in their original clarity. The method is based on the store-and-forward principle by means of a digital image archive and retrieval function. The new tool proved its excellence in a live demonstration at the American Society of Echocardiography Conference, held in San Francisco, last June.
Much more than static images, the transfer of echocardiographic material consumes an enormous amount of data. Compression procedures therefore are unavoidable. The SONOS digital network interface and the EnConcert digital image management system, developed by Hewlett Packard (HP), allow the image to maintain its initial quality, thanks to the system's superior store-and-forward capacity. The consulting doctor can send his complete diagnostic examination to the on-site physician and his patient in about twenty minutes without any loss of image details. Real time guidance and interactive consultation between remote sites is being performed, as if both parties simply were talking to each other in the same room.
At the Echocardiography Conference, the participating physicians witnessed the live transmission of cardiac ultrasound scans, executed at renowned health care institutions across the world, such as the echocardiography laboratories of chief hospitals in the USA, and the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi. This Indian hospital already has built a vast experience in Trans-Telephonic Electro-Cardiographic Monitoring (TTEM), a telehomecare service for heart patients, launched in May 1996, which is based on the use of cardiac beepers.
The demonstrations were led by famous specialists as Dr. Roberto Lang of the University of Chicago Hospitals and Dr. Craig Sable of Children's National Medical Centre in Washington DC. The connection between the different sites was established through Global Telemedix, specialized in videoconferencing. The HP approach results in the application of three important telemedical functions, which are remote consultation, remote diagnostics, and remote learning. Dr. Sable acknowledged his positive findings with regard to the cost and time saving aspects of telemedical consultation, during earlier sessions between a central site in New Orleans and some isolated rural areas. Expensive patient transport seems no longer necessary.
The store-and-forward option, provided by the HP system, allows physicians from all over the world to share their views on various diagnostic outcomes and treatment decisions, in order to learn from each other through the analysis of the same high quality echocardiographic images, obtained from several patient examinations. The method benefits from standardized protocols and platforms, like TCP-IP and Microsoft Windows NT, to facilitate universal connectivity and set-up, and to reduce general management system costs. Clinicians can select either real time or store-and-forward actions for image acquisition, report, review, and diagnostic purposes.