Research and anecdotal evidence alike build a strong case for why diagnostic images should be easily accessed and shared electronically across healthcare enterprises, regional healthcare information organizations (RHIOs), and statewide health information exchanges (HIEs). Why? Diagnostic images make up a critical part of the diagnosis process. Yet today, the most common way they're exchanged among providers and referring physicians is by making a copy of the image onto a CD and giving it to the patient to take to the next appointment at a specialist's practice or a hospital – an inefficient process that lends itself to human error and the risk of the CD being unreadable on the facility's PACS.
Although many healthcare systems already have PACS for electronic image management capabilities, these are proprietary, closed systems that do not allow providers to easily share information between departments, facilities, and entities. Plus, sharing images electronically with referring physicians outside of the system is difficult if the two facilities have different PACS vendors. To do so would require a prior implementation of a solution to morph the studies so that they could be viewed on the receiving system. Many of these approaches require the implementation of specialized hardware and software at the sending site, which can create a cost that is not sustainable by the receiving center.
It's time to adopt a new vision for an enterprise imaging strategy that focuses on providing electronic access to any medical image, anywhere, anytime. Current trends in patient safety and healthcare reform as well as competition for referring physicians are driving the need for this new paradigm of image sharing. The right strategy aligns with business needs, integrates with existing EHR and PACS, and incorporates three critical components.
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