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  • Informatics
  • Phone Lines Light Up After MIRC Goes Down

  • RSNA News continues its series of profiles on real-world users of RSNA’s Medical Imaging Resource Center (MIRC™). Lawrence Tarbox, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues at the Electronic Radiology Lab have learned just how much users value the system.

    RSNA News, August 2008

    "A professor of mine said the way to tell if a system is valuable is to shut it down and see how many people notice," said Dr. Tarbox. "Well, MIRC can’t be down for more than a day before people start hollering."

    Dr. Tarbox and his colleagues maintain a MIRC site that serves as a gateway for Washington University researchers to get their non-configured scan data back to the lab. MIRC provides them with one destination on the clinical network from which they can then transfer data to different sites.

    Their MIRC system, created in 2004 with custom modifications that are now a part of the standard MIRC package, does more than a PACS, Dr. Tarbox said. "We catalog data for the researchers and they can go pick them up as Zip files, with or without personal health information," he said. "This is a bona fide HIPAA repository and people can send things here that wouldn’t normally go to a PACS, such as raw CT scan data prior to reconstruction."

    There have been few complications outside of a minor, yet memorable, setback about two months after installation. The memory load became too much for the outdated equipment to handle. "At the time, we were working with basically hand-me-down hardware," Dr. Tarbox explained. "Our files are raw collected data, from the actual detector, that come in DICOM format. These are huge files, some a couple of gigabytes."

    After someone in the department discovered the system was malfunctioning and shut it down, Dr. Tarbox received a deluge of calls from users concerned that they "couldn’t send to Goldfinger." Turns out Goldfinger—much of the department equipment is named after James Bond characters—was shut down "because the system literally smoked," said Dr. Tarbox. "We pulled it to see if it was just wires or something trivial, but it turns out it actually smoked the motherboard."

    A hardware upgrade has since prevented any crashes resulting in data loss, said Dr. Tarbox, and system users now trust MIRC as they conduct projects including a multicenter trial of sickle cell disease in children. Researchers in the lab are also working with manufacturers on alternate ways to reconstruct CT images from raw detector data.

    For new MIRC users, Dr. Tarbox offers this advice: "Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are tons of folks out there using it and most of them don’t mind answering. And don’t give up too soon because once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s amazingly simple to use."
    Lawrence Tarbox, Ph.D.