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Why the cloud makes increasing sense for sharing medical images

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When healthcare executives think about medical imaging, they most likely associate it first with the terms radiology and radiologist. Perhaps, later they might think of specific imaging types, like X-ray or MRI, and then, maybe for those who were really savvy, a mention of PACS or RIS.

However, few would ever say orthopedics, neurosurgery, cardiology, or clinical trials. But medical imaging has become a vital diagnostic tool and essential for almost all medical specialities.

For example, let’s take fictional patient Laura. While walking her dog, Laura slips on a pile of leaves and hits her head. The fall was rather hard, and her friend drives her to a local hospital where a head CT scan is done as a precaution. All is normal, but a few weeks later, Laura begins to have some head pain and dizziness and wants a second opinion. She goes to a local neurosurgeon, who cannot make a full assessment without access to her initial CT scan. After a wasted appointment, Laura finds out that she must head back to the hospital to pick-up her CD of imaging scans or have it mailed to her doctor’s office, a process that could take more than a week.

Sadly, this dilemma of delayed care because of lack of access to prior medical imaging isn’t unusual—in fact, it’s the norm. A recent survey of more than 1,100 healthcare consumers who had imaging services performed found that 44 percent of them needed a day or more to move their images from one provider to another. Even within the walls of the hospital, CDs are often burned in the radiology department and carried to be viewed in the appropriate department or operating room.

Medical images frequently remain stuck in silos across an enterprise. And while many leading facilities have EHR systems across the enterprise to better consolidate patient data, very few are image-enabled, leading to a major gap in the holistic patient health record.

As the nation’s healthcare system moves in a direction of interoperability across consolidated systems, redundant imaging exams across specialties become a risk to the health of patients and a source of needless costs to facilities. Not to mention that any delay in a study being available in situations like trauma transfer or telestroke can have a tremendous impact on patient outcomes.

This inability to transfer images flies in the face of what patients expect today. Patients are acting much more like a consumer, and increasingly, facilities are hearing that patients want access and control of their own imaging data.

A recent report on today’s healthcare consumer in the digital era found that 80 percent of patients would like access to their medical imaging in addition to their test results. Offering patients services like data access through a patient portal, online consults and second-opinion services can act as enormous revenue streams for a facility.

And physicians are asking new questions too, like how progress can be made in the world of clinical trials without easily accessible anonymized imaging? And how can organizations be among the first to participate in AI initiatives without consolidated imaging data?

This is where the cloud comes in. The cloud can provide a single source of imaging data access across all specialities, not just radiology, and is highly flexible, scalable and interoperable. For example, New England Baptist Hospital turned to the cloud to solve imaging accessibility issues, efforts that were mainly motivated by their orthopedic specialty. NEBH is the premier regional provider for orthopedic surgery and the treatment of musculoskeletal diseases and disorders.

NEBH operates on a unique model—more than 95 percent of the physicians associated with the hospital are private practice physicians. As a result, NEBH deals with a large number of disparate and siloed systems. It was critical that a physician could view imaging outside of hospital firewalls and that patients could upload CDs at home, speeding up time-to-care delivery.

Today, NEBH uses a cloud-based vendor service for images and has been able to archive their entire imaging data set in a cloud VNA. From 300 to 500 images are uploaded in the cloud VNA per week as surgeons use the images for preadmission screenings and surgical planning. Patients can even upload imaging ahead of time from home, and all EHR systems across the network have been image-enabled.

Imaging access across departments is fundamental to providing physicians with medical images when and where they need them, allowing for more efficient appointments, a reduction in duplicate imaging, and reduced administration on surgery days. Whether a physician is looking at a brain, heart or even non-DICOM images like those of dermatology, imaging provides the answers necessary for a complete diagnosis, and must be accessible.

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