October 11, 2004
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Wireless Eases Mobile Medical Scanner Deployments

Shared P.E.T. brings positron emission tomography (PET) scanners to smaller hospitals (usually those with fewer than 500 beds) in states east of the Mississippi River, driving trailer-trucks to the facilities. The $250,000 trailer-trucks contain the $2 million scanner used to image the interior of the body, to help physicians diagnose patients. Most states limit the number of PET scanners that can be used in their states, so for many hospitals, their only access to such scanners is through a provider like Shared P.E.T.

Mobile PET scanners help smaller hospitals use advanced diagnostics, but Shared P.E.T. found that connecting the scanners in the trailer-trucks to the diagnostic stations in the hospitals was fraught with issues. First, a cable would need to be wired between the diagnostic station (a PC with special software on a mobile cart) and the parking pad for the trailer-truck. (Shared P.E.T. supplies the diagnostic station to the hospitals and manages them. The image files generated by the PET scanners can't be read by other computers or devices.) That could cost $8,000 and take a few weeks to schedule the work, says Shared P.E.T. CIO Marc Simms. Often, the hospitals' network administrators would shut off the network access for that cable in between visits by the mobile scanners and then forget to turn it back on for the next visit, which could delay access to the scanners' data by several hours as an IT technician had to be found and dispatched. Also, the cable connectors at the parking pad were easily damaged or interfered with by snow, rain, and other weather effects. "Snow and salt get in the parts," Simms says. And sometimes, connections could be stymied simply because no one had the key to the cable cover box in the parking lot.

For Shared P.E.T., the solution to these connectivity issues was wireless. The company is now using an 802.11b-based wireless LAN at each of its client hospitals to connect its trailer-trucks to the diagnosis stations. This eliminated the cabling, weather, and access issues it had experienced with cables. Shared P.E.T. customers tend to run about a dozen scans per day, and the image files transmitted to the analysis stations tend to be about 5MB in size, easily handled by an 802.11b network. CIO Simms is looking at mobile PET/computed-tomography (CT) combination scanners, which provide more detailed imaging, and have file sizes of about 60MB, which Simms believes should also transmit speedily on an 802.11b network. If not, he would migrate to 802.11g or 802.11a.


But Share P.E.T. is doing more than using a standard wireless LAN. It is using a wireless mesh from Firetide, which both isolates all wireless traffic between the trailer-truck and the diagnosis station, so there is no crossover with any wireless LAN the hospital might deploy for itself, and eliminates the need for Shared P.E.T. to switch access settings at each hospital. A wireless mesh is essentially a closed wireless network, with a Firetide router at both the trailer-truck and at the diagnosis station. Thus, only Shared P.E.T.'s devices are able to connect to each other in the resulting hot spot. The wired mesh also lets Shared P.E.T. devices automatically find each other, so technicians don't have to change their wireless connection settings at each hospital. The routers cost about $800 each.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at news@it-wireless.com.


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