Radiologists take a look at 4G LTE

Brisbane radiology practice Qscan is using Telstra's new 4G data network to provide super-fast diagnosis and reporting to healthcare clients.

Qscan was among the first Queensland businesses to trial the new 4G LTE modem, now networked in capital city CBDs and 30 regional and metropolitan centres.

Based on the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard for wireless voice and data communication, the new network is able to provide download and upload speeds far beyond the existing 2G and 3G networks for mobile data.

While the other telecommunications carriers are conducting trials and introducing their own 4G networks, Telstra got a jump start on the competition by beginning a trial of 4G in May. It officially launched to business customers in the capital cities in late September, along with Australia's first 4G mobile broadband device, a Sierra wireless dongle.

Qscan's managing partner, Dr Eric Sclavos, told Pulse+IT that 4G speeds were an order of magnitude faster than the previous 3G network, and easily outstripped the ASDL+2 fixed line he used at home.

Qscan has 11 radiologists as partners as well as another 15 on staff, with a number of radiographers and administrators working at over 15 sites in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. As well as private clients, it has a contract with Queensland Health to provide on-call services between 5pm and 8am at three local hospitals: Logan, Redcliffe and Redlands.

Qscan has for several years used the 3G network to send and receive CT images but the 4G network is proving infinitely faster, Dr Sclavos said.

“Previously, we had those big blue cards (3G) from Telstra,” he said. “The theoretical download speed is about 6Mbps but we really found it to be about 4Mbps.

“With the new black ones (4G) it is about 50Mbps, which far outstrips the ADSL2+ that I have at home. And the upload speed is 15Mbps to 20Mbps, which is wonderful. For anyone who uses a database, upload speed is important. If you are downloading a video it doesn't matter but uploading to a database is very important for us.”

He said that 10 years ago, on-call clinicians would have to drive into the hospital to view scans.

“For Logan Hospital, that's 45 minutes to an hour away from the CBD of Brisbane,” he said. “Now, if we are out we get a call and can log in from anywhere, or at two in the morning we can do it in our pyjamas then go back to sleep and the whole thing only takes 15 minutes.”

He said the speed was particularly important for trauma patients, who consist of a large part of out-of-hours call-outs.

“The workflow in a trauma situation is they get the CT done at Logan and the radiographers call us, we open up our laptops and log into a virtual private network (VPN) through 4G and view the images.

“Each image is about half a megabyte and in some cases there are between two and 500 hundred images. They stream them to the laptops, and we do the report and that is faxed back to the hospital. “It's very slick – often the patient is even back from the CT before the clinician has looked at the images, reported it, signed it off and the emergency doctor has a fax at his machine.”

Another benefit is the ability to share data volumes between users. Previously, each user would be allocated eight gigabytes each for a certain period, and if one user used 10, they couldn't borrow extra volume from other users. The new system allows users to share volume without being charged a large fee by the carrier.

“And it is so fast that while I'm analysing the first image that comes through, the second, third and fourth images are downloading,” he said. “Previously I'd be waiting forever for the images to download.”

Telstra is currently expanding its network and will offer LTE handsets and tablets from next year. Meanwhile, Optus is rolling out its 4G LTE service to coincide with the introduction of more 4G devices in the coming year. It is also improving its existing 3G network to migrate over half of its available 2G spectrum to 3G.

Vodafone is also improving its network coverage, partnering with Huawei to use its SingleRAN solution, which it says is capable of delivering 2G, 3G and 4G LTE from a single base station site.

Vodafone's first LTE next generation services is expected to come online later this year. The company says the equipment is based on a maximum theoretical standards of 42Mbps. Vodafone is also working with Huawei to prepare the Vodafone network for an upgrade to 4G or LTE, which has maximum theoretical download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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