Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Merge PACS Roadmap

When Merge bought AMICAS last year, many of us were quite worried about the path our PACS would follow, especially with the loss of the main developers and programmers. As a customer, I'm happy to say that promises made at the time are being kept, and the future looks pretty good, at least for the next few years.

I had the chance to visit Merge HQ in mid 2010, and I filed this report:
But what I really came to Chicago to discover was the future of AMICAS PACS, and I think the answer here is satisfactory. The Merge people feel that Merge and AMICAS were more complementary than competitive, except in the realm of RIS/PACS. Everyone agrees that AMICAS had a great PACS, and Merge had a good RIS. These two programs, respectively, will be the go-forward products. Everyone at the table wanted to be certain I deliver this message clearly, so I will quote verbatim: "The approach to RIS/PACS will be the consolidation of the best practices of all of the applications into a single platform workflow and viewing solution." Well, there you have it. All Merge RIS/PACS customers, including those using AMICAS PACS, Fusion PACS, or RadStream (from Emageon) WILL BE SUPPORTED, and will have an upgrade path. How much the upgrades will be wasn't mentioned. What I will call AMICAS 7 will ultimately include the best of all worlds, blending the best of the legacy products, and using the ECM as the back-end.
So far, this has indeed been the course of events. In particular, AMICAS PACS lives on. I am somewhat distressed that it is now called Merge PACS, but I suppose I'll get over it. To the victor go the spoils, and all that.

A few days ago, some of the Merge folks gave me an update on their PACS roadmap. There were no huge surprises, but a lot of nice features are here or are at least on the way.

Our AMICAS, I mean Merge Hospital is still back on AMICAS 6.0.4, the first maintenance release by Merge, and there we sit for the moment. But we are behind the times.

Version 6.1 was released early in 2011. The most important change was the option to integrate to a Vulture Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA), preferably the Merge iConnect VNA (formerly known as Emageon AMICAS Merge ECM, or Enterprise Content Management.) 6.1 also offers tagging for teaching-file creation:

If you bought Merge PACS today, and everyone was REALLY efficient at getting it up and running, you would receive Version 6.2, which was released in Q3 of 2011. While previous versions would run in a 64-bit environment, 6.2 is a native-64-bit application, which can use more memory for larger studies or more studies viewed simultaneously. Yes, it will run on 32-bit stations, too. There are several fixes as well; our version has a weird glitch involving the display of some of the cursors, and that is now history. 6.2 also includes  instant messaging via Merge Messenger (do you get the impression that they like the name Merge?) which lets users communicate with each other and link to studies in real time.

DICOM SR reports and other such objects can now be viewed. There are some mammo enhancements such as skin-line localization. 6.2 has been more optimized to be launched from an EMR as an embedded viewer.

We will soon see Version 6.3, expected to be released Q2 of this year, and there will be a number of new features available. First in my heart, anyway, will be PET/CT fusion. Actually, any two modalities can be fused, so maybe I can avoid that PET/MRI purchase after all. (It would be nice if we had PET/CT at the AMICAS Merge hospital...)

There will be even more digital mammo enhancements, with linked magnifying glass and linked binoculars view:

Digital tomosynthesis display will also be included:

One of my partners has been whining about requesting user-customized keyboard shortcuts, and his wish is now granted:

6.3 has some back-end improvements, such as LDAP support, and better study-deletion rules. Its code has been streamlined for faster operation, and improved experience on lower-end workstations.

Sometime late in 2012 we will see the next edition of Merge PACS, Version 6.4. In an attempt to consolidate Stryker Ortho customers, Merge will, umm, merge the functions of Stryker PACS into the mothership code. There will also be teaching file worklist access from iConnect. There will be a new option to upload CD-ROM data.

Sometime in Q1 2013, we should see version 7.0, code named Ability (actually, it's not, but I thought it sounded like a nice counterpart to another version 7.0). We will see native DICOM printing (which now requires an add-on such as ePhlegm eFilm to accomplish, global user preference administration, and EMPI (Enterprise Master Patient Index) support, critical for true enterprise systems. There will be some enhancements to the Real Time Worklist (RTWL) as well.

No word yet on Version 8.0.

I'm personally pleased by what I've seen. Merge PACS remains eminently usable, and continues to evolve and improve.  I'll still put it up against anybody else's software. Now, if I could only come out with a new and better version of my abilities...


Jorge Cortell said...

Hi Dalai,
I love your blog. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.
Sorry for the pitch, but I think it is relevant; if you want most of those features describen in the "roadmap", you can have them right now: (we are now, finally, in the USA too).
Keep up the good work!
Jorge Cortell
Kanteron Systems

Anonymous said...

Kanteron - one of the top 3 PACS in the world according to a study cited on their website - who woulda' thunk it?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see how people who work inside of Merge rate the company - this is some interesting feedback:

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Apple can make a 600 dollar device which as part of the device it incorporates a 2048x1536 display but Barco(and all the other PACS monitor vendors) cannot create a 2048x1536 LCD for less than 5000 dollars. The PACS monitor vendors have a good thing going.


Anonymous said...

V 7.5 Merge RIS is dreadful. Many functions simply do not work. There is no ability for users to see or obtain all of the data that the system collects, and their DASHBOARDS product is just terrible. Wish we had a different product! Stay away!