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Software developed by medical computer programmers help to save lives
Nicholas Olczak
update on Saturday, November 28, 2009
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On the ward of a public hospital, a doctor clicks to bring up the scan of a patient in critical condition. He leans in to study the blotchy shapes of organs on the screen. His ability to make the right diagnosis may depend on how much detail he can see in this scan. The patient's life could hinge on the software being used to produce the image.

"The software has to be very precise to give results that a doctor can read," said Samuel Wong Wan-kay, software operations manager at Time Medical, a company which designs and manufactures magnetic resonance imaging systems. "If the doctor can view images in several dimensions, then he can more easily spot what is wrong."

Medical imaging technology is continuously improving, offering doctors a wider range of more powerful ways to see into different parts of the body. The quest to enhance the software involved offers many alternative opportunities for people with computer skills. Time Medical is looking to hire about 12 people to help overhaul the software used in its equipment.

"We want a lot of changes to our software to provide more comprehensive tools," Wong said. "We now have powerful computers that can speed up the process, so the software needs to be improved as well."

Time Medical, which has been developing the technology for five years, wants to take on people who can design graphical user interfaces, databases and image-processing and scanning software.

Wong said the positions were interesting because of how they could affect ordinary lives. "If we are making the software properly, doctors can diagnose people and cure them," he said. "This is how we can contribute to society as a programmer."

He said the company also had a broader vision to make magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology cheaper and more accessible. Because of this, it is looking for programmers who value its mission and have an interest in making a difference to the world.

"I look at people's heart," he said. "We want people who are really interested."

He also wants employees who can work well as part of a team. Programmers have to work together frequently, making sure their part of the code fits into the final software, and they must also talk with medical professionals to understand their requirements. Alongside these skills, Wong said technical abilities were necessary. Applicants should have at least a basic understanding of C#, C++ and Java programming languages, which may be learned on an undergraduate science degree.

"We want people who are at a high level so that we can speed up our process," Wong said. "But we don't mind taking people at an intermediate level who can contribute to the company and improve themselves."

He said employees were given in-house training in MRI systems to help them better understand how these operated and how to make software for them. The company has specialists and professionals who can provide this training for its staff.

"We have a consultant [radiologist] in-house," he said. "He will come in every week to consult with our engineers on how they can improve their software so that radiologists or doctors will be satisfied with the quality."

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