The PACS industry has long been dominated by traditional medical imaging vendors, and for good reason. These were the companies that developed the technology, in partnership with elite medical facilities that could afford to finance expensive new systems. Some observers say that the early-adopter phase of the market has lasted too long, with broader market adoption being held back by high costs and intimidating technologies. While the established vendors recognize the need to cater to non-early adopters, some feel that they have note moved fast enough.
Due to their leaner, more flexible structure, some smaller companies have taken the lead in taking PACS to a broader market. One such company, Stentor, is raising eyebrows. Since entering the PACS market in 2002, the company has achieved impressive results, gaining over 100 PACS customers in less than two years. This rapid rate of growth has been achieved through a careful balance between technological expertise and close attention to customer needs.
The company's beginnings are grounded in the demanding world of the clinical enterprise. In fact, the technology itself was developed within a medical institution. Stentor was born at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with Dr. Paul Chang providing the clinical impetus and John Huffman, Stentor CTO, as the scientific innovator. Stentor's original iSyntax platform was developed around the very sophisticated notion that image management, including diagnostic-quality images, should extend beyond the walls of radiology and the hospital into the community.
Stentor translated its understanding of the needs of a demanding medical environment into its core strength, enabling it to crack the PACS market in record time. Not only has Stentor tripled its market share, its customer satisfaction levels are also consistently among the highest in the industry.
CEO Jeff Otten and other key members of the Stentor team brought with them decades of experience at some of the biggest names in healthcare, including Brigham and Women's Hospital, Eastman Kodak, Intel, and Siemens. Stentor's founders set out on their own to create a unique technology and revolutionary workflow process at a time when other vendors continued to market their legacy platforms. "We knew that if we could create a solution that was truly unique and offered real value to hospitals and physicians, it would be immensely successful," Otten explains.
Otten emphasizes that, because Stentor was created in a hospital, its business and partnership models have always been focused on the needs of the physicians and patients. "Our technology is enabling hospitals to do something that no other technology is able to offer - to provide full-functionality image viewing anywhere, anytime, and at a greatly reduced cost. This can only be achieved by simultaneously being extremely technologically savvy and hospital-friendly. In many ways, this is Stentor's raison d'être," explains Otten.
Indeed, in addition to having a strong focus on cutting-edge technology, Stentor places an uncommonly high premium on understanding and meeting customer needs. Stentor scrupulously designed its systems and its business model around the customer. Says Otten, "We designed and invented our technology to meet a very specific goal - the management of images throughout the greater enterprise of the hospital. We didn't say ‘Here is a good existing technology; let's try to apply it.' Instead, Stentor began with a very robust understanding of what the clinical enterprise requires from a PACS and then invented the technologies that enable this to happen."
In the process, Stentor created a form of wavelet compression technology that goes beyond the industry standard technology in significant ways. Stentor's unique approach enables the efficient, timely transmission of all types of diagnostics-quality medical images throughout the enterprise, in many cases eliminating of mitigating the need for costly network upgrades.
Not only has Stentor taken the lead in creating and marketing ground-breaking image management technology, the company has also brought to market a business model that makes enterprise image distribution and radiology PACS much more accessible to cash-strapped medical facilities. Stentor's model features a fee-per-study pricing structure that enables customers to pay a monthly fee during the contract period rather than paying a lump sum at the beginning. This may be the only way that many hospitals can afford PACS, and it allows them to full understand their total cost of ownership.
Dr. Albert Grabb, Chairman of Department of Radiology at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, a Stentor customer since 2001, is thoroughly convinced of the superior value proposition that Stentor offers for hospitals like his. "I think that Stentor provides a better understanding of the financial situations that hospitals are facing today. Stentor's business model is totally aligned with the long-term success of the hospital."
Torrance Memorial is a 377-bed nonprofit community hospital in southern California that began searching for a PACS vendor in 2000; however, the radiology department, which was heading the effort, quickly encountered obstacles. Dr. Grabb recalls, "At the time, the Medical Center was in the process of implementing it's master plan to meet the needs of the community and comply with the California seismic safety law. In addition, the Medical Center was embarking on an aggressive five year IS plan that included many upgrades to clinical information systems and replacement projects, but did not include a PACS. The Radiology Department had to justify and compete for capital with all of these other projects, and it was hard to see how we could realistically pursue a PACS."
That's when Stentor came along. According to Dr. Grabb, the vendor worked very closely with the hospital to find a workable solution. "It was so easy. Stentor said, ‘OK, we're going to put in a Web distribution Pilot Program.' They put in the server, which took about twenty-four hours for them to optimize. The next day, we were distributing images! It was so effortless on the part of the IT team and on the part of the administration." By demonstrating this level of performance and sensitivity to client needs, Stentor easily trumped the competition. As Dr. Grabb reports, "When we realized what Stentor had done for use, the ease with which everything worked, it became crystal clear which PACS vendor we would choose. There simply was no comparison."
As a result, in 2001, Torrance Medical Center signed up with Stentor for its iSite "Enterprise First" solution, which brought digital image viewing to referring physicians throughout the enterprise, as well as at home and remote locations. After Stentor delivered this project with flying colors, in 2002, Torrance chose Stentor to provide a full PACS solution for filmless diagnostic reading and archiving of all modalities, including general X-ray. Once again, Stentor delivered a world-class solution while working closely with the hospital to resolve the financial issues.
Dr. Grabb's comments provide testimony to the tremendous value that Stentor brings to its clients. "Without Stentor's fee-per-study pricing model," he says, "PACS would not have been affordable. Based on traditional prices and financing models, we were not scheduled to install a PACS until late 2004. This meant that a committee would have to be formed, and we would have to go out and start looking for a vendor that could work with us. Stentor's pricing model made all the difference in the world. We jumped forward three years."
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