FEATURE: IBM, Brigham virtual Radiology Theatre could be new EMR paradigm

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Francine Jacobson, MD, thoracic radiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and assistant professor in the department of radiology at Harvard Medical School

IBM is working with Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston to create a virtual Radiology Theatre, where teams of medical experts can simultaneously discuss and review patients' medical data using a secure web browser.

Francine Jacobson, MD, a thoracic radiologist at BWH and assistant professor in the department of radiology at Harvard Medical School, told Health Imaging News that the radiology theatre is "quite flexible," allowing the presentation of images and other patient data together to provide a comprehensive picture of the disease process.

Data such as CT scans, MRIs, EKGs and other medical tests can be posted on the website and analyzed by a team that can see images and make real-time markings that each person simultaneously examines. Each physician can talk and be seen through live streaming audio/video through their standard web connection, and have the ability to whiteboard over the web page, as well as input information to the patient's record.

Jacobson foresees that the technology could be used to interact within a health system--especially for those colleagues physically located elsewhere on the campus--and also for physicians outside of their health system's network. "If I place an image up on the site, I can discuss that image in real-time with a colleague next door with the same ease that I could discuss the study with a physician, who resides outside of the U.S.," she said.

She acknowledged that part of her motivation for pursuing this line of research was a "frustration" with the current state of EMRs. "While Brigham's is a forward thinking institution that began developing electronic medical records a number of years ago, our record keeping is maintained across multiple systems, which are not all accessible from a single computer. In addition to my desire to bring together all the people who will help make the best decision for the patient, I also am interested in merging those interpretations with as much information as we may need about the patient to optimize patient care."

"In the future, it might provide a new paradigm for medical records because it is much more intuitive--just as we can digest a whole book that would take days to read by sitting in a theatre for a couple hours, it makes more accessible the patient's illness, along with their key milestones," she said.

"The software can record what we bring to the theatre, and then help us to pull different images from varying modalities--automatically data mining through the disparate systems, which is typically a manual process. The Theatre brings together both visual and non-visual data to help us make decisions for patient care, present a scene for a patient's illness--all of which will increase patient safety when that patient's care is transferred from one provider to one another," Jacobson said.

Because radiology guidelines currently require studies to be read under specific resolutions, like in mammography, Jacobson surmised that this technology cannot currently replace the need for first diagnoses to be made in the traditional reading room settings.

"However, in the future, someone may take this technology and place these images on larger screens with higher resolution, in order to bring all the incompatible data to one display," Jacobson explained. There is a lot of potential already designed into the operational part of the Theatre that could later be expanded upon for future uses in providing safe and efficient medical care in the era of individualized medicine."