GigE Vision Brings a Clearer View for the Operating Room

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Almost all aspects of healthcare--from initial examination, to surgery, and nursing--are increasingly relying on real-time video to improve care and lower expenses. Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) is a natural choice for video transmission in a range of medical imaging modalities, due to its reliable image transmission performance, networking capabilities, and cost advantages.  

In my previous blog posting, I introduced the GigE Vision standard and discussed how its evolution for industrial machine vision applications is benefitting medical imaging. This posting looks at the performance and cost benefits that can be achieved by deploying GigE Vision-compliant video interfaces in the operating room.

The Basics of GigE Vision

Medical imaging systems in the operating room require video interfaces that can reliably transfer high-resolution images from cameras or image sensors to computers and displays in real-time with low, consistent latency (or delay). Fluoroscopy, for example, requires fast transfer of images from a flat-panel detector (FPD) to a display screen to enable precise surgical decisions. Beyond technical performance, new imaging systems must integrate seamlessly with existing equipment and scale easily to additional image sources or display panels.  

The GigE Vision standard is a good starting point for system designers to meet these requirements. It provides a framework for the transmission of full-resolution uncompressed video with low, consistent latency over wired or wireless Ethernet networks. Data is sent directly to existing ports on computers used for analysis, display and recording, eliminating the need for costly PCIe frame grabbers to capture images at endpoints while enabling the use of a wider range of computing platforms, including laptops and tablets. The same connection is used to transmit control data between the computing platform and the imaging device, as well as configuration information for imaging systems used for different procedures. Per-frame metadata, such as the date and time of acquisition, sensor settings, and imaging equipment used, is transmitted with the images over the GigE link for easy integration with DICOM-compliant software and hardware. GigE Vision also supports image compression standards, including JPEG, JPEG 2000 and H.264.

With GigE Vision, medical imaging system designers can fully support point-to-point connections, while gaining the flexibility and cost advantages of video networking and multicasting. GigE-based systems can be easily expanded to support additional endpoints or imaging capabilities as systems evolve. Thanks to the widespread adoption of the standard in the industrial sector, GigE Vision-compliant products are widely available from vendors as off-the-shelf solutions.

GigE Vision in the Operating Room

With GigE Vision-compliant products, including embedded hardware and external frame grabbers, it is relatively straightforward for designers to upgrade existing imaging products to create a real-time networked imaging system.

In the application diagram below, a film-based X-ray panel in the C-arm has been replaced with a digital FPD. Embedded video interface hardware allows designers to easily integrate GigE Vision-compliant video connectivity into FPDs, with numerous manufacturers now offering digital panels that fit into existing systems as a direct drop-in replacement for film-based panels. In systems where images are being sent from a FPD over an existing legacy interface, such as Camera Link or LVDS, integrators can use an external frame grabber to convert images into a GigE Vision-compliant video stream.

A camera in the lamp head provides an overhead view of the operating room that can be used for training or archiving. An external frame grabber converts images from the camera into the same compliant GigE Vision format. Image feeds from the FPD and camera are aggregated at an off-the-shelf Ethernet switch and multicast to processing, analysis, and display equipment. Per-frame metadata is transmitted with the images over the Ethernet link for easy integration with DICOM-compliant software and hardware. Ethernet’s inherent multimode capability means archiving can be centralized in the control room, reducing system cost and complexity by eliminating the need for discrete recording devices at imaging sources.

At the computer, the video streams in through the Ethernet port, allowing the use of lower cost, lower power computing platforms, including laptops and tablets. The video processor creates a composite image, highlighting areas of interest and overlaying pre-op images and vital signs information, that is then multicast over the Ethernet network to various displays. In the operating room, an external frame grabber converts the GigE Vision image stream to HDMI/DVI signals for viewing on a high-definition dashboard used by the surgeon to track real-time patient data from different imaging devices and systems.

One of the key performance advantages of the GigE-based distributed network architecture is the ability to aggregate previously isolated image sources and patient data and display the integrated information on a single dashboard. In the operating room, for example, the single screen dashboard displays recorded and real-time patient data from different imaging devices and systems. The surgeon or operating team members can easily switch between imaging sources, such as white light and fluoroscopic cameras or pre-op and real-time images, without reconfiguring hardware. New image destinations can also be easily added, with real-time video from the operating theatre transmitted to a conference room, multiple departments, or shared with remote specialists. With 10 GigE interfaces, which support 10 times the bandwidth of GigE, multiple image sources can be transmitted simultaneously over a switched Ethernet network to a processor for 3D image generation.  

Wired and Wireless Options

Compared with the bulky cabling and connectors required for legacy video interfaces, the more flexible, field-terminated Ethernet cables cost less and are simpler to install and maintain. Video, control data, and power are transmitted over one cable, lowering component costs, simplifying installation and maintenance, and reducing “cable clutter." The long reach of Ethernet--100 meters over ordinary Cat 5/6 cabling--means processing and analysis equipment can be located outside the sterile environment.

Increasingly, designers are seeking wireless solutions to enable more portable imaging systems. GigE Vision over an industry-standard 802.11 wireless link sets the stage for untethered imaging systems that can be better positioned for patients with limited mobility. Portable imaging equipment can also be conveniently located in a crowded OR to help improve room management.

A Clear View

Imaging technology is increasingly an electronic eye in the operating room, with real-time video networking enabling new levels of precision, insight, and diagnoses to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. Many of the performance benefits offered by fully networked imaging systems in the operating room can be traced back to the choice of video interface. Designing or upgrading medical imaging systems with off-the-shelf GigE Vision video interfaces allows manufacturers to shorten time-to-market, reduce risk, and lower system cost and complexity, while delivering interoperability and performance benefits to enhance the value of their solutions. 

Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.


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Guest contributors submit their opinions and knowledge about the Medical Design space


Ruthann Browning

Ruthann Browning is a 28-year veteran of process equipment and automation. She currently handles Technical Sales in Automation in Comco’s western division and spearheads sales and marketing for...

Steve Schubert

Steve Schubert is VP, Business Development, for Advanced Machine & Engineering in Rockford, Ill. He has been with the company for more than 30 years.
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