CHICAGO – Technology advances and radiology provider shortages are intersecting in Europe with the R-Bay project, an EU-funded effort to create a virtual exchange of radiology services across numerous countries.

Carestream Health (Rochester, New York), a partner in the European consortium that is organizing the e-marketplace for radiology services – modeled after online auction and commerce company eBay (San Jose, California) – debuted its SuperPACS Architecture at last week's annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA; Oak Brook Illinois).

SuperPACS is designed to integrate multi-vendor, multi-site PACS (picture archiving and communication system) for the R-Bay project. Deals for access will be brokered hospital by hospital.

Data would remain at original sites and would be accessed virtually.

"The R-Bay project would provide for remote viewing, consulting and second opinion services across organizations, regions and nations, enabling pan-European distribution of radiologist resources across secure networks," Ulf Andersson, Carestream's director of marketing and business development, North Europe Region, told Diagnostics & Imaging Week.

"In the states, teleradiology is fairly well established. In Europe, we haven't had the same thing. We have language barriers, different regulations for different countries and different technologies," he said.

There's also a significant shortage of radiologists.

"Teleradiology isn't new," Andersson said from the massive two-story Carestream exhibit at RSNA. "But it's coming into a different stage and level. I was running the healthcare IT part of Carestream in 2004 and that's when we started to talk about this. That's how the project originated. The main drive for our company is that there's a shortage of radiologists. In western Europe, the aging population contributes to the situation."

R-Bay's goal for a virtual and secure exchange of radiology services will be based on a series of separate deals and a pay-per-click model. Additional objectives include:

Modernizing healthcare working environments in Europe by making specialist capacity more equally accessible.

Generating new business models and business streams for health services dubbed eCollaboration.

Preventing a "brain drain" from Eastern European countries with a surplus of radiologists.

Offering all patients in Europe equal access to optimal medical care.

Current EU funding is intended just to investigate the project parameters. The investigation will end in April 2009 and the R-Bay consortium will issue a report on its findings. After that, funding will be generated from participants.

"There certainly is a market for it," Andersson said. "From a technical point of view, there are barriers because of the diverse technology and different manufacturers. One of the things we're [Carestream] doing is showing how to manage the environment. With our SuperPACS, radiologists would have a virtual desktop so they can view images whether they are generated via GE, Philips and others. That's the underlying technology - to bridge all of these technology issues."

Carestream's SuperPACS Architecture communicates with legacy systems to:

Create a common global work list and apply intelligent rules to balance workload so that exams captured throughout the enterprise can be read by radiologists in any on-site or off-site location.

Define the global work list to include routing to specialists.

Support multiple patient identification numbers.

Share patient information and images securely between all locations.

Equip radiologists with a unified set of diagnostic tools.

It will allow for use of existing PACS and storage devices and for consolidation of resources. The new architecture can synchronize disparate PACS. Images and reports are automatically sent back to the original PACS for local storage and distribution.

The Super PACS Architecture is expected to be implemented by hospitals and healthcare enterprises, regional health networks, single- or multi-site imaging centers, reading groups and teleradiology services, Andersson said.

Danish e-health agency MedCom, also known as the Region of Southern Denmark (Denmark), is acting coordinator of R-Bay. Partners, in addition to Carestream, include Mawell (Finland), IMA (Czech Republic), Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute (Czech Republic), University Medical Centre, Nijmegen (the Netherlands), East-Tallinn Central Hospital (Estonia), University Hospital of North Norway (Norway), Vilnius University Hospital (Lithuania) and Oulu University Hospital (Finland).

MedCom pioneered the Baltic Health Network connecting six neighboring nations on a common telemedicine platform to provide care to remote rural and island-based citizens of all the countries. R-Bay is building on this experience.

Denmark's success is attributed to having both an open market structure for industry providers and a government mechanism to build agreement, or consensus, on frameworks and platforms, according to Claus Pedersen of the international business development team at MedCom.