Images play a key role in nearly every healthcare environment, and industry studies project a dramatic increase in clinical imaging over the next five years. In fact, the global digital radiology market, specifically, is expected to reach $13.3 billion by 2018. Nevertheless, relatively few healthcare organizations are addressing imaging interoperability across their internal departments, or making it a core part of an enterprise data-management strategy aimed at achieving the higher levels of collaborative care necessary in this new era of healthcare.
The recent rise in information-sharing standards has led to more physician collaboration than ever before. As a result, providers are implementing technologies that promote comprehensive, longitudinal patient records across the continuum of care. Failure to include imaging in an overall data-management strategy is a mistake for hospitals and health systems. In addition to improving collaborative care capabilities, a comprehensive enterprise data strategy that includes imaging will reduce costly duplicate testing, enabling physicians to render more accurate diagnoses and faster, safer treatment plans.
Imaging strategy components
Mention “imaging management,” and many are likely to think of picture archiving and communications systems (PACS). While PACS will continue to remain an important part of health system infrastructure well into the future, healthcare organizations must also take steps to make images more readily available to physicians. The key lies in implementing a comprehensive enterprise data strategy that consists of the following five steps:
- Understanding the imaging environment.
- Eliminating silos and centralizing storage.
- Accessing exams in the EHR so that information is available at the point of care.
- Storing and viewing images in the cloud.
- Connecting patient data to the appropriate care delivery networks.
Step 1: Understanding the imaging environment
The first step to a comprehensive enterprise data-management strategy is a full assessment of the existing data-sharing environment. Organizational leaders need to understand the operational workflow within the imaging environment in order to successfully implement a strategy that gives clinicians access to any image, any time, across the continuum of care. Many health information exchange services have historically not included imaging services, so it’s important for providers to now ask, “Where are my images currently being stored?” By doing so, providers can inventory their current efforts and get their arms around how to include images in their enterprise data strategy.
Step 2: Eliminating silos and centralizing storage
The second step toward an enterprise data strategy is to set up a centralized “storage bin” that can be used to save and manage images for multiple specialties within a health system. Using a vendor neutral archive (VNA), for instance, enables all DICOM headers to be converted into a standard format so that they can be displayed by any DICOM viewer within the facility. By putting these images in one location, eliminating silos and centralizing storage, providers have faster access to images and can provide treatment plans more efficiently for improved patient care.
Step 3: Accessing exams in the EHR
Making information available at the point of care is an essential component of any data-sharing endeavor. Combining a VNA with a universal viewer can enable all of an organization’s providers to access images for every patient within a facility. So whether it’s Leslie the cyclist’s knee MRI scan or Joe the butcher’s stress echo, all physicians can have single-point access to every patient image. This not only saves time for physicians, but it also speeds treatment and reduces the need for repeat imaging. That’s no small task; statistics show that a third of all medical imaging scans are unnecessary, and that some $26 billion is spent annually on redundant imaging alone in an overall $100 billion diagnostic imaging market.
Deploying a universal viewer is among the most important steps a hospital can take to enhance its collaborative capabilities, because it has immediate impact on a facility’s bottom line. A universal, zero-download viewer that can be accessed via an embedded link or a stand-alone portal permits users to access images on their computers or other approved, browser-based devices without having to download any additional software, apps or scripts. It also allows hospitals to leave existing infrastructure in place and gives every clinician a safe, federated view of images across all departments and systems.
Step 4: Storing and viewing images in the cloud
Next, health systems should implement an efficient image-sharing gateway, which virtually eliminates the risk of loss and other problems that can result from having to provide patients with image CDs. Such a gateway offers the secure convenience of simply dragging and dropping image files onto the gateway’s Web address. The image is then converted to the native PACS format of the receiving physician, who is then electronically notified of the study’s availability for review. By sharing images through the cloud, physicians are not forced to disrupt their normal workflows to retrieve images. As with the VNA, it helps patients by reducing redundant medical imaging and the accompanying safety risks and extra expense.
Step 5: Connecting patient data to the appropriate care delivery networks
The last step to an enterprise data strategy is the connection of patient data across care delivery networks. The healthcare environment is shifting toward collaborative care models, and the ability to share critical patient information beyond the health system has its benefits. As reimbursement models shift to pay for performance, it is imperative for providers across the care continuum to look beyond a singular patient record to provide an improved overall patient experience. By using the cloud to aggregate and connect patient data to a variety of referral networks, healthcare organizations can look for insight and trends regarding population health and disease management, providing a more global picture to care delivery.
Looking ahead: the future of enterprise data management
Medical images are an essential component of healthcare delivery across the continuum of care. Collaborative and value-based healthcare models are here to stay. These two factors combine to create compelling reasons why healthcare organizations must ensure that medical imaging is included in their enterprise data-management strategies. The benefits of enterprise data management don’t stop at improved collaborative care capabilities, but extend all the way to stronger profitability overall.
About the author
Justin Dearborn is CEO of Merge Healthcare.
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