PACS limitations demand a new imaging paradigm

enterprise medical imaging

I was struck by a recent article published by the Journal of Digital Imaging. It provides a clear and well-crafted view of the current limitations of PACS technology in meeting the imaging needs of today’s healthcare systems. In this article, authors Mona Alhajeri, PhD of the Jaber Al Ahmad Center for Molecular Imaging in Kuwait and Syed Ghulam Sarwar Shah, PhD, of St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, analyzed four online PACS discussion groups over a two-year period and identified several unresolved weaknesses of the technology despite several important advancements.

The primary PACS limitations cited include:

  • Limited storage
  • Integration issues with other hospital systems and PACS from different vendors
  • Problems viewing, copying and importing images and data
  • Issues with data backup, archiving and recovery
  • Difficulty transmitting images
  • Limited windows and tools on PACS workstations

Limitations have implications

These limitations have real implications for healthcare providers in a world where interoperability, clinical collaboration and patient-centered continuity of care have become imperatives. This doesn’t mean that PACS has outlived its usefulness. In fact, the authors identify several opportunities for PACS platforms to improve their functionality in future iterations to address many of these issues.

However, even with these enhancements, the wisest course of action for healthcare providers would be to stop treating PACS as the end-all-be-all of the medical imaging universe.

Picture archiving and communication systems have been primarily designed to manage radiology and cardiology images, and have matured to do that well. However, the imaging world today includes much more than just radiology and cardiology DICOM assets. Patient images include native JPEG and TIFF files and MPEG videos that are captured in several areas throughout a health system including dermatology, ophthalmology, surgery, gastroenterology and even the ED.

All of these images – DICOM and non-DICOM – are important parts of the patient record that require enterprise-wide clinical access. These images originate very differently and require a new, more modern approach to imaging.

An enterprise-first imaging strategy improves flexibility, control and visibility

Today’s healthcare provider organizations should consider an enterprise-first imaging strategy that helps to bridge the gaps left by PACS, enabling centralized image management while facilitating interoperability with other systems.

This all starts by adopting a vendor-neutral strategy that eliminates proprietary data stores and gives you control of all of your imaging data. By integrating a vendor-neutral archive (VNA) with your PACS, you not only streamline DICOM image exchange with other systems, but also facilitate the ingestion of non-DICOM images from specialty systems and modalities throughout the enterprise.

Universal viewing technology can also help untether images from PACS workstations by providing radiologists with anytime, anywhere access to diagnostic images, while extending referential viewing of medical images to all clinicians throughout the enterprise. This capability also helps to facilitate clinical collaboration while eliminating the need to burn images to CD or DVD.

It’s clear that PACS is no longer enough to fulfill today’s evolving imaging demands. Healthcare providers should look to implement enterprise-imaging technologies that can complement and optimize existing PACS investments. By providing easy enterprise access to medical imaging information, clinicians gain a more comprehensive view of their patients that can improve treatment and diagnosis. Improved image visibility can also enhance care and reduce costs by eliminating nuisances such as unnecessary repeat imaging tests.

Sandra Lillie is the Director, Global Healthcare Industry and Product Marketing at Hyland Healthcare. She leads a team providing advanced market strategy and messaging expertise to Hyland Healthcare on market alignment, collaboration and client experience in support of Hyland’s extensive healthcare portfolio, including OnBase, Acuo VNA, NilRead Enterprise Viewer, and the PACSGear Enterprise Image Connectivity Suite. Sandra brings more than 20 years’ experience in hiring and developing high performance teams productive in business development and consultative selling of information technology solutions for the healthcare community. She has extensive leadership experience prior to joining Hyland through roles of increasing responsibility at Lexmark Healthcare, Informatics Corporation of America, Teramedica, Dell Healthcare, EMC delivering solutions supporting health information exchange, vendor neutral archive, enterprise content management, and technology infrastructure in support of healthcare information systems.
Sandra Lillie

Sandra Lillie

Sandra Lillie is the Director, Global Healthcare Industry and Product Marketing at Hyland Healthcare. She leads a team providing advanced market strategy and messaging expertise to Hyland Healthcare on market... read more about: Sandra Lillie