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11/5/2012
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Wireless Connectivity Problems Hinder Mobile Medical Image Systems

KLAS reviews mobile digital X-ray vendors, finds excellent image quality, but trouble transferring data to picture archiving and communications systems.

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Mobile digital X-ray vendors need to step up their connectivity capabilities, concluded a recent report by KLAS. "Mobile Digital X-ray 2012: Moving in the Right Direction," ranked four vendors on mobility, image quality, wireless connectivity and battery life. Although image quality is good among vendors, the report determined, issues arise with wireless connectivity and transferring images to a picture archiving and communications system (PACS).

According to the report, the new generation of mobile X-ray providers is offering smaller, sleeker and more mobile devices that "maintain image quality better than ever before." The technology is driving demand and increasing mobile imaging volumes in the emergency department, operating room and other areas of the hospital, but as this demand increases, so does the importance of the key features outlined in the report. The study ranked the performance of Shimadzu, GE, Canon and Fujifilm.

Fuji Go, the "oldest system" the report ranked, had the highest rating for wireless connectivity. "Overall, providers were pleased with the connectivity," the report read. "Fuji customers reported fewer hiccups than users of other vendors' units and routinely shared positive experiences, praising the ease of use and reliability of the wireless system." Fuji, the report continued, isn't perfect though. "A handful did mention they are still trying to work through some issues with the connectivity," it read.

The issue of connectivity was a significant one among all vendors. The report said wireless connectivity is critical in two areas: connection of the wireless detector to the X-ray unit, and connection of the unit to the hospital's wireless network that allows the transfer of images to the PACS.

"Respondents cited very few challenges with getting images to the unit from the detectors, but getting images to the PACS," was an issue, the report read. "Many providers felt that their mobile digital X-ray vendors were not the only source of the problem. The blame was shared; some of the fault for their connectivity problems could be attributed to their own poor wireless infrastructure." That being said, though, the report continued, connectivity is an area where all vendors need to improve.

[ Learn Why Personal Health Records Have Flopped.]

For example, Shimadzu, which performed well in other areas, still lags in wireless connectivity. "Some of the units are reported as being slow to transmit images to the PACS," the report read. "Though customers are willing to take some responsibility for their internal network faults, some feel Shimadzu needs to step up their effort."

Image quality was another area explored within the report and was considered good by most respondents. Fuji customers said their images tend to have "very high quality" when compared to other images they've seen. GE customers said although their referring physicians "are impressed with the image quality, some mentioned that at first the image quality was not great, and it took GE some extra time to show them how to tweak the machine to get the filters and other settings set up correctly," the report said.

Canon customers reported the images are "excellent," when compared to the system most had previously used. However, although Canon did well for most of its customers, the report said, the vendor did score lowest on image quality. "One customer found fault in the imaging of small bones like toes, saying it is not as crisp as desired and physicians are not as happy with those images when they are blown up," the report read.

Looking ahead, the report said mobile X-ray has "made some great strides" over the past couple of years, with several new product introductions and additional functionality driving up satisfaction and usage. "Vendors are still developing new innovations to bring to the market," it read. For example, all vendors are working on a wireless neonatal-ICU detector that's smaller to better fit into babies' beds.

Overall, the report concluded, Shimadzu is the leading vendor, with overall "stellar service and reliability ... Shimadzu is still working out kinks with wireless connectivity and battery life, but they work well with customers to get things fixed. Overall, unless providers have a prior relationship with another vendor, Shimadzu is the go-to option in the mobile x-ray space."

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