Developing an enterprise imaging strategy that is in lock-step with an electronic health record (EHR) optimization program is the beginning of most healthcare organizations’ digital transformation. But even when an organization has the most sophisticated EHR solution in place and have married patients’ digital images to their individual records, the transformation journey has only just begun.

New technologies—like deep machine learning and digital pathology, for example—that are already on the horizon will require healthcare organizations to become much more “digitally mature” to be ready for the coming wave of image-related data and its intelligent use—and another big wave is coming soon.

The number of clinical images captured and stored each year throughout America’s healthcare system is already staggering: An estimated 36 million MRIs and 74 million CT scans were performed in the United States in 2017 alone, according to IMV's 2017 MR Market Outlook Report, and that just scratches the surface of the growth of images floating around in medical organizations.

Consider the myriad wound care and other visual condition assessments taken with smartphones, digital images acquired from surgical scopes, cardiology images, and even point-of-care ultrasounds captured annually—it’s easy to see why maturing enterprise imaging strategies must remain top-of-mind for today’s healthcare CIOs, and why the American healthcare market is hotly anticipating the release of the HIMSS Analytics Digital Imaging Adoption Model (DIAM), a multi-stage maturity model to be released in the U.S. during HIMSS18.

To help healthcare organizations prepare for the changes to come, here’s list of five of the most important tips that our consultancy regularly discusses with clients:

Develop a comprehensive, widespread enterprise imaging strategy. An enterprise imaging strategy should consider all aspects of imaging, regardless of type, from acquisition to analysis. Imaging is a complex area of health IT, and it doesn't start and stop in radiology. While radiology is, and likely will always be, the producer of the highest volume of clinical images, it's important to consider the widespread use of point-of-care ultrasound, digital photography and other types of clinical images as well.

Create a standards-based data governance model. Healthcare organizations need to design and implement data standards for images and associated metadata elements now to be ready to enable a relevant presentation of images within the EHR and take advantage of upcoming analytics and deep learning capabilities as they become more mainstream.

Focus on interoperability. Healthcare organizations need to design and implement data standards for images and associated metadata elements now to be ready to enable a relevant presentation of images within the EHR and take advantage of upcoming analytics and deep learning capabilities as they become more mainstream. It is also important that the standards developed are applied uniformly to ensure the highest data value.

Standardize image acquisition workflows. Given the wide variety of image acquisition-related use cases across a multitude of clinical disciplines, standardizing the organization's image acquisition workflow may seem like a daunting task. However, upon closer examination, there are really only a few variations to consider. The creation of standardized workflows will enable faster onboarding of service lines needing image management services, and it will ensure that data standards are applied and that images are presented appropriately within the EHR.

Embrace image lifecycle management: Most organizations are still retaining clinical images using expensive, antiquated storage technologies or ignoring the lifecycle management capabilities provided by their vendor neutral archives (VNAs) or image management solutions. The use of hybrid cloud strategies, starting with Tier 4 image storage, is a great way to reduce the overall cost of retaining an image while accommodating the long-term retention requirements needed for research and for compliance with regulatory mandates like those required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Organizations should consider these steps as they take a fresh look at their digital health strategy, as imaging grows in importance in delivering care.

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Kim Garriott

Kim Garriott

Garriott is the principal consultant, healthcare strategies, for Logicalis Healthcare Solutions, the healthcare-focused arm of Logicalis US, an international IT solutions and managed services vendor.