Alberta health images to go all digital

Alberta Medical Digital Imaging Project Abstract

TORONTO -- Alberta, Canada, officials have started a $177 million project to digitize diagnostic medical imagery by 2008 for all clinics, even those in the province's most remote regions.

Linda Miller, director of information management at the Alberta Health and Wellness, the provincial health care agency, speaking here at the Canada e-Health 2005 conference, said Alberta is the first province in Canada to develop a provincewide digital imagery plan. Officials expect their health imagery to be filmless by 2008 as part of an ongoing electronic health record strategy to move the province's 5,800 doctors from paper to electronic systems. About 3 million people use the province's medical system.

Alberta Health and Wellness officials plan to digitize almost all diagnostic imagery, including X-rays and scans from magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) systems, Miller said. The exception will be mammography scans, which present greater technical challenges, she said.

The province has 15 government-funded MRI machines, and getting the results can take days for critical scans and more than 20 weeks for routine procedures. Officials expect the digital imaging system to significantly reduce MRI wait times, in some cases to hours for critical scans.

Hy Eliasoph, a consultant at Deloitte & Touche who is working with Alberta Health and Wellness on the diagnostic imaging project, said the system will be built around hubs in Calgary and Edmonton, serving their respective metropolitan areas and a third hub in Red Deer, which will be the hub for communities in the rest of the province.

Miller said the health agency is still developing the architecture for the system, and she could provide few details on the amount of storage and types of servers needed at the hubs, hospitals and clinics.

But, she added, broadband networks are essential to the project's success. Alberta Health and Wellness will rely on the province's SuperNet, designed to provide high-speed connections to 4,200 government, health, library and education facilities in 429 communities provincewide, Miller said. Developed by Axia NetMedia and Bell Canada, SuperNet provides services to government facilities at various data speeds and prices ranging from $242 a month for 256-kilobits/sec circuits to $697 a month for 20-megabits/sec circuits.

SuperNet should provide service to even the most remote clinics in Alberta, Miller said. If it cannot, Bell Canada must provide the service as part of its contract with the province, she added.

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