Navy To Digitize Shipboard Medical Imaging

Agfa to supply digital radiography, PACS, speech recognition technology for 42 U.S. ships to connect to Walter Reed radiologists. New tech replaces metal plates.
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The U.S. Navy is upgrading its shipboard medical diagnostic capability with a fully digital image acquisition and reporting system and a ship-to-shore teleradiology network.

Agfa HealthCare, a unit of the Belgium-based Agfa-Gevaert Group, has won a five-year contract from the Navy to upgrade imaging technology aboard all 42 U.S. Navy ships that have radiology suites, according to the company's U.S. subsidiary. The contract covers the retrofit of current ships that have computerized radiography (CR) technology and the installation of digital systems on any new ships that enter service in that time period.

Digital radiography captures images on an electronic sensor, while the older computerized radiography technology uses metal plates similar to film X-rays. Agfa has been supplying computerized radiography equipment to the naval fleet since 1999. "The initial driving factor was to get rid of darkrooms and chemicals," Tim Artz, director of global government accounts for Greenville, S.C.-based Agfa HealthCare USA, told InformationWeek Healthcare.

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Agfa is supplying three classes of digital radiology units: a top-of-the-line DX-D 400 for fixed X-ray rooms; portable DX-D 100 systems for emergency rooms, operating rooms, and bedside usage; and "low-capability" devices from third parties, according to Artz. The vendor also will be providing a small-scale implementation of its IMPAX picture archiving and communication system (PACS) for the fleet that will link to the enterprise PACS at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where the Navy's teleradiology unit is headquartered.

In addition, Agfa will provide its TalkStation voice recognition technology for dictation and reporting of diagnostic imaging studies on the ships, just as it does at Walter Reed. (Formerly known as the National Naval Medical Center, the Maryland campus got a new name when it consolidated with the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in 2011.)

"There's no radiologist on board the ships," Artz noted. The Navy has to care for hundreds or thousands of people at a time at sea for months at a time, and telemedicine allows the service to run its ships more efficiently and better cope with medical emergencies. "If they don't have that, they have to evacuate," Artz noted. This is expensive and logistically difficult, especially in combat zones.

The Navy takes care of ship-to-shore communications, so Agfa will not have to maintain the satellite links, but the vendor will tie all imaging and reporting into the PACS at Walter Reed, which handles teleradiology for other military sites. "The ship images will just be commingled with that work list," Artz said.

With the technology, radiologists at Walter Reed will be able to dictate, edit, code, and sign reports within minutes of receiving images from naval ships.

The PACS communicates with the legacy Composite Health Care System (CHCS), which the Military Health System still uses for radiology. CHCS is the precursor to the current -- but aging -- Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) electronic health records (EHR) platform.

U.S. Navy officials were not available for comment on this contract.