The numbers make it easy to understand why Stentor CEO and cofounder Oran Muduroglu got into the business of digital medical imaging: Each year in North America about 400 million medical cases are preserved on photographic film. Patients often have folders stuffed with 5 pounds to 10 pounds of images. Each set of film costs $25 to $35. And 70 percent of a hospital staff needs to access that film. Then there’s the matter of lost film.
All told, medical film imaging is a $15 billion industry crying out for digital technology to replace?or at least supplement?the expensive (and extremely slow) process of taking photos of our innards for diagnoses. That’s what Stentor does. Its products create high-resolution digital images from X-rays and MRIs. Stentor also created a file system for easy storage and access to the images. The hope is that the product will severely cut back on bike couriers dropping off film at the front desk and agonizing four-day waits for diagnoses as images wend their way through the labyrinth from radiology to general practitioner.
But Muduroglu knew that doctors and hospitals make up the toughest user base in the world to satisfy. “They’re conservative with technology,” Muduroglu acknowledges. “They have absolutely no time for ’might make my life easier,’ but if you show them it works, that it really works, they’ll buy in. And they’re somewhat price insensitive?if it works.”
Muduroglu called on his two decades in radiology to shape the business case for his venture (which has netted $25 million in funding). Every sale starts as a pilot program, but so far, he says, 95 percent of pilots have turned into full sales. Stentor stores the medical images in its iVault storage servers (on hospital premises usually) and then charges $1.50 for a doctor to access a case. Once the doctor has the case, he can e-mail it to other doctors or keep it locally?for no additional fees.
Muduroglu also assembled a sort of medical technology dream team to ensure that the product could satisfy its hard-to-please users. He pulled in Paul Chang, a user interface expert who helped design the application. Muduroglu also recruited John Huffman, the man who created the compression technology that allows high-resolution images to be stored in relatively small files.
The compression is key as performance is critical to iSite applications. When doctors call up a file, open an image and zoom on part of it, it has to be instantaneous or they won’t use the technology. They’ll fall back to film. The compression technology Huffman has honed for Stentor allows fast manipulation in part by rendering only what’s visible on the screen (traditional compression technology renders an entire image even if the viewer never looks at much of it).
Dr. Joe Connolly, a neurologist at the Everett Clinic in Everett, Wash., says the Stentor technology has allowed faster diagnoses and more collaboration among doctors.
As an example, Connolly describes the case of a recent patient. “He’s in his mid-30s and has had headaches all his life. He got a new physician, who ordered a CAT scan,” Connolly recalls. After he and the patient’s primary physician ordered more tests and shared the digital film of those tests, they discovered the patient was suffering from hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain, a condition that required immediate surgery. “I was able to diagnose without waiting for film and then talk to the patient and have him go down and check in for surgery,” Connolly says. “With film that would take days.”
After 30 years, the patient no longer has headaches. And the medical imaging industry may be in for fewer if Stentor’s technology takes off.