MRI Unit, Sheffield University

Intranet Searches

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a way of seeing inside the body without x-rays. Instead, it uses a powerful magnet, radio waves and a computer to generate high definition 2 and 3-dimensional images.

The MRI Scanner at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital had been in operation for 3 years and performed scans on about 1000 patients, when, in 1992 Illuminaries was commissioned to develop a single IT system to manage scan episodes, appointments, reporting and billing.

Up to this time, usage statistics supplied by the MRI Unit to the directorates within the Trust were gathered by looking through the appointment book and counting them.

Although some details of the scan episode, including the radiologist’s report, were stored electronically, the database system did not provide either analysis tools or a data export facility.

Over time the MRI facility, operated by University of Sheffield, has grown to five scanners at three sites across the city. The database has been scaled up to handle 10-12,000 patients a year and currently holds MRI related data for more than 70,000 patients.

The original Windows system designed by Illuminaries ten years ago provided many pre-built reports for usage statistics as well as a keyword search function. However, these failed to answer all of the questions posed by trust administrators and clinicians. An ad hoc reporting tool was added to the system, which was partially successful in responding to these issues, but because this was only available on certain user’s desktops, most requests for information were being handled by either the Superintendent Radiographer or the Accounts Clerk. Moreover, with increasing numbers of MR reports stored in the database, the keyword searches were becoming unacceptably slow.

In 2000, discussions between Illuminaries and the MRI Unit identified a number of key requirements necessary to make best use of the data for clinical and administrative staff, and in doing so enhance the levels of service the Unit could deliver to the Trusts. These included:

  • Search tools to be made available on the desk tops of the people who need the information
  • Faster and more flexible keyword searches (comparable to those available on internet search engines)
  • A wider range of general searches – more criteria to select from and drill downs to view details
  • Ability to set up a picture library of ‘interesting’ MR images relating to patient scans, including tools to add textual annotation and run searches against this
  • Where appropriate, the ability to transfer the results of searches into Excel for analysis and to copy pictures into PowerPoint for lectures, presentations, etc.

The solution, which went live earlier this year, is a browser based search tool, available to authorised users at the Royal Hallamshire, Northern General and Childrens Hospitals. The MRI intranet runs on a web server located in the MRI Unit and utilises the three hospitals’ Local and Wide Area Networks.

Images (including animations) are stored on an optical jukebox, which is also the central storage device for the document management module of the MRI Database, holding in excess of 100,000 files of scanned documents.

Results from all types of search are presented as a browser page in a common summary format, which permits drill downs to view details of the scan episode and any associated images stored in the picture library.

Results lists are easily copied to Excel, Word or Access and images may be copied and dropped into Word or PowerPoint.

Access rights ensure that only authorised people can view confidential patient information.

System Architect, Tony Bennett notes, "Large and complex databases hold a lot of valuable information but this is often unavailable to the people in the organisation who can make best use of it, because of issues around product licencing or the specification of desktop PCs. Intranet based reporting tools are a fantastically cost-effective way of opening this information up to managers, analsysts and research workers. IT solutions running in a web browser do not require a high spec PC because all of the processing is done on the web server. The web server might be a dedicated machine but for a small organisation could be an existing Windows server."

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