Computerised X-rays provide doctors with picture of health

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am

Doctors at public hospitals can now access electronic radiological images with the click of a computer mouse, saving the time once spent in searching for the traditional film images, thanks to the efforts of an award-winning information technology team.

The project team, formed by the Hospital Authority's doctors, radiologists, radiographers and information technology experts, is one of the six outstanding teams awarded by the body this year.

Wong Chun-por, head of the geriatrics department at Ruttonjee Hospital and a team member, said traditionally, images of ultrasound, CT-scan (computerised tomography), X-ray and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are printed on plastic film which creates extra costs in storing, filing and administration. The images, which cost more than $10 each and are developed by chemicals, also cause environmental concern.

In 2004, the project team developed data compression technology that allows the uploading of radiological images to the electronic medical records system.

The system has been in use by the authority and stores the information of 7 million patients. Until now, the system was only able to store medical, drugs and laboratory records in text form.

'In the past, if we wanted to get an X-ray film from another hospital, we had to wait one or two working days for the archive office to retrieve the film. Sometimes the films were even lost,' Dr Wong said. 'Now doctors can see the images by just clicking into the authority's electronic patients' records system and more than one doctor can share the images.'

Health workers can access the electronic images from the authority's 12,000 work stations and some can do so from home computers.

'It allows senior doctors to give advice to their juniors even when they are at home,' Dr Wong said.

Cheung Ngai-tseung, the authority's executive manager (health informatics), said an overseas information technology consultancy had once quoted a price of $230 million for setting up a similar electronic images system. 'Our system, which produces a relatively lower but good quality of images, cost only $20 million,' Dr Cheung said.

The number of acute hospitals using the new electronic images system will be increased from eight to 12 by the end of the year.

The project won the 7th Hong Kong Computer Society IT Excellence Awards 2005 and the health category gold award from the Asia Pacific Information and Communication Technology Awards 2005.