As medical imaging technology continues to advance, healthcare organisations should plan their path to the future and determine how they will safeguard access to images beyond the radiology department and across their organisation. Providing additional clinicians with access to medical images supports more informed clinical decisions and higher quality patient care.
At the heart of most current medical imaging systems, lies PACS, which has been the go-to option for radiology departments for several decades. Although this technology continues to work well, hospitals should plan for the evolution from their current platform to future enterprise-wide image sharing.
As organisations consider the updates needed for their existing PACS, it is important to evaluate their long-term plan and future digital needs and to assess the merits of a vendor-neutral, enterprise-focused strategy. This approach provides flexibility and enables the integration of new imaging formats and technologies as they emerge, in the coming years. In addition to providing the interoperability critical to true digital healthcare, such a strategy can lay the groundwork for significant cost savings.
When a system supports multiple image formats, images can be easily shared across all kinds of devices, to practitioners across all specialities can view every kind of image and file, on demand and on a single, convenient device. The result is a more complete view of every patient, supporting more informed decision-making and better patient care.
To solve the interoperability challenge today, healthcare organisations can adopt an enterprise imaging strategy that is compatible with PACS and integrates with an enterprise imaging system. Ultimately, such systems will operate from a centralised, cloud-based data store.
An enterprise imaging strategy, underpinned by a centralised system, such as a vendor neutral archive (VNA), can produce benefits and savings immediately. But the value becomes even greater when a hospital needs to scale up or share images across departments.
To ensure an organisation has the freedom to grow in a cost effective way, universal diagnostic viewers and a vendor neutral archive (VNA) could add significant value. With a VNA, both images in older formats and images in newer formats are equally available to everyone.
This approach involves a move toward enterprise imaging, in addition to maintaining a PACS. It starts with the adoption of a vendor-neutral strategy that moves away from proprietary data stores and gives organisations control of all of their imaging data, no matter the department or system where it originates. Implementing a VNA can be an effective first step in this direction, while helping to keep the cost of digitisation under control going forward.
A key outcome of this strategy is that the use of a universal viewer allows procurement managers to invest in “off the shelf” hardware, such as laptop computers or tablets for referential diagnostic viewing. These are not only cheaper, but the devices will be familiar to everyone, and will not require a specific viewing station. Images can be accessed from across the organisation in many locations.
Healthcare providers should, therefore, look to implement enterprise-imaging technologies that can complement and optimise existing PACS investments, which are no longer the only option for medical imaging. The point at which senior technology and clinical leaders are contemplating a major investment to upgrade PACS is the right time to think about this, because it can provide savings from the beginning and will allow a wider variety of options to be considered when it comes to the actual PACS upgrade.
With an enterprise imaging strategy comes freedom to choose hardware and software vendors from across the full market spectrum; to select solutions that are best for each department and group; and the freedom to access and use all its legacy PACS and other DICOM and non-DICOM images, without the need for ongoing expensive migrations and storage upgrades.
This freedom is essential to build the next generation of digital-led healthcare; it is the key to enabling practitioners to cope with the huge workload they face as the population ages, and it opens the way to vendor- neutral imaging systems that prioritise excellence for both doctors and patients.
Written by Phil Colbourne, Hyland EMEA Healthcare director.