Picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) have been the go-to option for medical imaging for several decades, but as the need for image sharing outside of radiology increases and PACS maintenance costs rise, the next upgrade can be an opportunity to consider how you might develop a strategy that facilitates a move towards an enterprise imaging solution.
Whereas PACS may have started off as a relatively cost-effective way of storing images, regular upgrades and maintenance to storage platforms and other associated software and hardware have been pushing costs upwards.
PACS is likely to remain part of the medical imaging landscape for many years to come. However, a growing number of healthcare organisations also regard this as an opportunity to assess the merits of a vendor neutral, enterprise-focused strategy, which enables the integration of new imaging formats and technologies that may emerge.
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To pursue this future-proof approach to imaging software procurement, healthcare executives should start thinking beyond the regular improvements that come with any technology system, and look to build a truly interoperable imaging system. Already, hospitals rely on a host of other imaging systems beyond PACS, and the more interoperable a system is, the more freedom healthcare organisations will have to select cost-effective and advanced options in the years ahead.
It is not only for cost-saving purposes that new types of images should be considered: interoperability is also essential for clinicians and patients to enjoy the promised benefits of integrated digital healthcare. In such a system, practitioners across all specialities and departments can view every kind of image and file, on demand and on a single convenient device. The result can be more accurate diagnoses and better patient care.
Picture archiving and communication systems is a medical imaging technology
One solution to the interoperability challenge is to adopt an enterprise imaging strategy that is both compatible with PACS and integrates with other imaging systems that will continue to proliferate across healthcare organisations. Such systems will operate from a centralised data store – a cloud approach as opposed to the old-fashioned process of downloading and replicating systems which fragment data and lead to greater storage needs in the long run.
An enterprise imaging strategy, underpinned by a centralised system, can produce benefits and savings immediately. But it will really come into its own when a hospital needs to scale up or share images across their organisation; new file types come into use; and more cost effective hardware or storage options come onto the market.
The option to use universal, diagnostic viewers and a vendor neutral archive (VNA) will provide the freedom to grow and ensure no department is left behind. At the same time, images in older formats will remain in the archive and accessible to all practitioners.
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.
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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 encourage a digital-first approach because the devices will be familiar to everyone, and do 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 first moment 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 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 in order to build the next generation of digital-led healthcare; it is the key to enabling practitioners to cope with the huge workload the sector faces as the population ages; and it opens the way to vendor neutral imaging systems that prioritise excellence for both doctors and patients.