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Medical Scans Find a Home in the Cloud

Researchers say they've got 600 patients willing to throw their medical scans into thin air -- sort of. A group of five major hospitals is using federal funds to experiment with a system to put patients' x-rays, CT scans, MRIs and other scans onto a cloud database, where they or their doctors can access them from anywhere.

The push for health IT innovation is a key part of the Obama Administration's effort to make the U.S. health care system efficient, and save money, too.

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Image Share project, funded by a $4.7 million 2009 contract with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering,is offering patients the ability to share medical images with health providers. Researchers delivered an update on the project at the annual meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society this week n Vancouver.

Patients who want a copy of a medical image for use by another physician typically get one on compact disc. With RSNA Image Share, patients log into an account that sends encrypted links to the cloud-based digitized medical images as e-mails to a specified physician. Among the clinical goals of the project is the reduction in repeated scans by patients.

"People are so accustomed to sharing photos online. This is an analog to those activities, with a higher bar for security and confidentiality," said David Mendelson, a radiologist and professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center who led the project. He likens it to the level of security around an online bank account. Patients get an eight-digit account number and a six-digit PIN for authentication purposes.

The first phase of the project has 600 patients enrolled at five teaching hospitals, with 190 patients at Mount Sinai and others at University of California, San Francisco, University of Chicago Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., University of Maryland in Baltimore and the University of California, San Francisco. So far, about 600 patients are participating in the program. A survey of participants will be conducted once the project has attracted between 1,000-1,500 participants - probably in the fall of this year.

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