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Speeding Up Medical Networks
Getting the bandwidth you need for PACS, teleradiology, telemedicine and other medical center operations.

The data network is becoming as important to medicine as the prescription pad. Until recently, high technology scanners and low tech medical record files peacefully coexisted. Now they are being integrated into digital packages that can be instantly stored, retrieved and collaborated on by doctors hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

The Need For Medical Bandwidth
A number of forces are working to integrate and speed up medical technology. More and more medical information is being generated electronically to begin with. Consider the CAT or Computer Axial Tomography scan machines. These 3-D computer controlled X-Ray machines generate digitized images. MRI magnetic resonance imaging machines also generate digital images. These images can be presented on film for analysis, but the already digital image data can also be stored or viewed on computer monitors for analysis. Systems for doing this are called PACS for Pictures Archiving and Communications System. The practice of analyzing medical scan images remotely is teleradiology.

Hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices are under the same competitive pressures to improve efficiency as other businesses. Some patient data is entered directly into computer records, some is still hand written and needs to be scanned to get it into digital format. Once everything is digitized, however, it can be saved in a common data bank as easily made available where needed. The standard format for medical data is called DICOM for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine.

How Much Bandwidth Is Required?
As you might suspect, the amount of data that needs to be stored, retrieved and transmitted can be huge. This is especially true of PACS images which need to be available in high resolution so that none of the important diagnostic detail is lost. A single set of images can easily exceed 100 Mbytes.

Busy medical centers, especially those that need to send or view teleradiology data, need substantial network capability. OC3 optical carrier lines running at 155 Mbps are popular, especially when organized as SONET rings that connect related hospitals and clinics in a metropolitan area. The more and larger the facilities, the greater the demand for bandwidth will be. OC12 lines at 622 Mbps are becoming common. Even an OC48 fiber optic carrier running at 2,488 Mbps is not unreasonable, especially when the local area networks are running at Gigabit Ethernet speeds.

Fiber Optic Connections Are The Future
Optical carrier data transmission is likely to accelerate in the medical field, as the cost of bandwidth is reduced and the need to rapidly transfer medical data increases. PACS and DICAM may well give the impetus to light up some of the thousands of miles of dark fiber that were planted and forgotten during the great telecom buildout of the 1990s.

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