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