Why interoperability is becoming more important in radiology

As imaging technology evolves, leaders in medical imaging and tech vendors see the growing necessity of achieving easier data exchange.

This year, at RSNA 2016, radiologists are invited to think “Beyond Imaging” and “explore new ways to collaborate.”

As I think beyond exciting new imaging capabilities, such as knife-edge scans that build the 3D image of an anatomical slide and molecular imaging probes, I am equally excited about advances in interoperability, mobility and analytics. These advances together will truly transform how radiologists and other clinicians work, and work together.

Sure, the end-goal vision remains ambitious: a 360-degree, longitudinal patient health record that is continuously updated and captures all of the patient’s medical history, including diagnostic images. A record that can be securely accessed and amended by authorized members of the clinical team, anywhere and anytime.

The capabilities are within reach, such as the ability for clinicians from different disciplines to consult on a specific patient’s medical image and collaborate on real-time diagnosis and treatment monitoring from across distances. However, there additional progress can be made.

With the explosion of new medical imaging applications—for ophthalmology, dermatology, and pathology, and video files from arthroscopy and gastroscopy, each with their own dedicated server viewer—the barriers to interoperability, integrated workflow, and compliance remain significant. With more than 70 companies in PACS, each with their own proprietary files and viewers, and combine that with the separations between PACS, EHR, and Radiology Information Systems (RIS), there are still a lot of silos to overcome.

Removing the silos will require a concerted effort, one that brings technology companies and healthcare organizations together with the common vision of simpler, more transparent access and interoperability for medical images. While not there yet, progress is being made.

For example, vendor-neutral data management layers can help mask complexity by aggregating and standardizing patient data from all PACS, Healthcare Information Systems (HIS), and specialized imaging applications, eliminating the need for expensive data migrations or the need to open multiple applications that disrupt workflow. A clinical collaboration portal can help manage access and secure sharing of clinical data across a wide variety of sources in a patient-centric repository, thus simplifying both image integration in the medical record and sharing.

Other software, such as customizable, enterprise viewer and clinical workflow solutions, enable healthcare organizations to add another layer of control for efficiency and compliance with regulatory and institutional standards.

Technologies such as hybrid cloud, converged infrastructure, scale-up processing power, and scale-out storage capacity are providing the foundation to centrally store medical images. Until now, merging disparate PACS has meant having to fork lift existing data from legacy storage platforms, making the process of data migration costly and inefficient. New technologies such as scale-out NAS overcome these hurdles, enabling healthcare organizations to keep what they have, on what they have, and simply start to modernize as they add new capacity going forward.

Centrally applied software is helping to strengthen security, protect privacy, facilitate image sharing, and simplify integration with EHR. Today, many large technology companies are working with healthcare clients and partners to standardize and integrate tools into their EHR, enabling new kinds of multi-media viewing, electronic content management, data mining, and data analytics.

New advances in mobility are helping to get medical images and other patient data into the hands of the care team at a point of care, or remotely. For example, consider a radiologist covering multiple hospitals over considerable distances in a rural environment. High-resolution mobile devices can serve essentially as a mobile PACS monitor, enabling radiologists to view multiple types of images from multiple sources, when and where it makes the most sense, rather than being tied to one type of PACS workstation.

The future looks bright for radiology and radiologists. Mobility, analytics and storage capabilities are clearing the path toward interoperability. As long as those leading the charge remain committed to merging a wealth of domain and industry experience with a collaborative approach, we will see new clinical advances to support the expanding role of radiologists, toward information-driven healthcare and improved patient outcomes.

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