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4D Medical Systems launches 4D PhotoStation

An East Tennessee computer expert is taking the old saying about a picture and a thousand words and turning it into a new medical diagnostic tool that has the potential to save lives.

Joe Ortiz founded 4D Medical Systems, Inc. in 2007 in Oak Ridge at the Technology 2020 business incubator. But Ortiz has been working with computers and imaging for various companies over the last 25 years. That led to his interest in "4D" technology – the ability to use high resolution photography to track changes in a subject over time.

"The fourth dimension–4D—is time," said Ortiz. "It's not just pretty pictures."

He started the company with an idea and a business plan, but not necessarily a practical application.

"We were looking at where we could make an impact."

The solution came from his wife, Nancy, a nurse practitioner. "She had the idea that we could use it to track skin cancer growth. It just made sense to focus on the healthcare industry."

What came out of all the planning and research is a unique product called the 4D PhotoStation. The portable imaging system features a digital camera with a telephoto auto-focus lens that can be used to take a series of high-resolution photographs.

"The system eliminates the need for a separate photography room and extra lighting," said Ortiz. "It's the intersection between photography and imaging."

The companion 4D Photo-Image Manager software manages the entire process and provides a single point of control for capturing, organizing, annotating, and communicating digital photo-images. By automatically associating photo-images with a patient record ID, the system is designed to eliminate the need for hard-copy photos and paper files.

It also provides a way for physicians to record the progression and treatment of skin cancers and other conditions.

"It creates a visual diary," said Ortiz.

The company officially launched the 4D station in September for The Skin Wellness Center, a dermatology clinic in Knoxville. Already it's getting rave reviews there.

"The system is simple to use, captures high quality photographs, and enables patient ID referenced documentation of visual changes over time," said George Smith, administrator at The Skin Wellness Center. "We are very pleased to be working with a company that is so in tune with what our physicians and aestheticians need in today's dynamic practice environment."

The 4D system's computer-based management capability also opens the door to what Ortiz sees as the biggest potential for his system–the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) industry.

"Most practices are at least looking at EMRs. Our goal is to get involved with the top three to five EMR companies and become part of the total solution."

Ortiz said the 4D system can fit seamlessly into most EMR systems.

"Right now a lot of practices take digital photos and upload them onto office computers, but they don't have any way to integrate them into an EMR system. We can take care of that."

As part of the federal stimulus package, the Obama administration is offering financial incentives to physicians and healthcare providers who can show "meaningful use" of electronic records. Within a few years, there will also be penalties attached to those practices who don't meet the standards. Ortiz believes this puts his company in a great position for growth.

"When we started, we had no idea we'd be going in this direction with EMRs. We had to be flexible to adapt. Now we can take it nationally."

That means building an aggressive but calculated strategy for sales and distribution. "I'm really trying to build something long-term," Ortiz said.

Even as Ortiz looks toward nationwide growth, he's also quick to credit at least part of his success so far to the support he's received from other experts right here in East Tennessee.

"This region is a jewel of expertise," he said, citing a wealth of resources at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. "It's our hidden gem."

Ortiz may also have some other tricks up his technological sleeve. He's working on another program that will be able to take a full-body image in just four photographs.

"Right now, the process takes up to an hour and requires dozens of photos," he said. "Our idea is to get it done in just four shots–front, back, right and left. We're always looking for ways we can improve the process and, in turn, help make a difference in people's lives."

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