This blog post was written by DICOM Grid CEO, Morris Panner, and originally published on Advanced Healthcare Network.
A Facebook page paints the picture of an individual. Key information like birthdays, occupations, location and education are all featured in a profile along with images. In much the same way, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) can provide the full medical portrait of an individual. EHRs can contain a patient’s entire medical history – blood test results, lab reports, lists of past surgeries and much more.
But as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and this certainly holds true for clinicians attempting to get a comprehensive view of an individual patient’s medical status. As EHRs continue to gain prominence as the ultimate source of patients’ medical history, many physicians are demanding access to diagnostic imaging within the EHR. Access to imaging is not only an operational convenience; it can also have a tremendous impact on patient care and safety.
Currently, most EHRs can only display text-based radiology reports, not the actual diagnostic studies. Some organizations have addressed the issue with complex workarounds and HL7 interfaces to connect their picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), radiology imaging systems (RIS) and EHRs. These solutions tend to be messy – many healthcare organizations maintain their own IT systems, and the various programming languages can make it difficult for physicians to gain valuable insights.
Cloud-based solutions can serve as the glue that holds it all together, connecting each component under one unified system. Cloud solutions for image management solve a critical challenge by giving healthcare organizations an agile framework to transmit studies over the Internet. The cloud allows for the formation of complex workflows and routing rules that send medical images and health information where they need to be. Also, a full cloud image management suite facilitates scalable archiving opportunities, universal viewing capabilities and seamless access to data within EHR systems.
What about images that arrive from outside the hospital system? Using the exchange portion of a cloud suite, images can be transferred and uploaded from a variety of inputs, and gateway software can be set up to facilitate point-to-point connections. Memorial Hermann Health System, a multi-site organization, has used DICOM Grid to connect over 100 external sending sites to its main campus for receiving trauma and general referrals from external systems in real time.
David Bradshaw, chief information and strategy officer of Memorial Hermann Health System, says, “With a cloud suite, seamless exchange of images within the EHR is possible among the various imaging centers, practices and hospitals within our network.”
In addition, Memorial Hermann has backed up years of imaging data in the cloud, creating the ultimate disaster recovery solution. The ability to reliably retrieve a backup copy of imaging data that might be otherwise lost due to hardware/software or network failure is no longer just good practice; it’s a federally mandated requirement. A key element of a cloud suite such as DICOM Grid’s is that the vendor has the responsibility to manage security settings through encryption technology and provide automated storage and disaster recovery programs. A system user can then access images in an emergency from anywhere, anytime, including on mobile devices and tablets.
For example, the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, in partnership with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and powered by DICOM Grid’s image sharing platform, unveiled the country’s first mobile stroke unit last February. A computed tomography (CT) scanner that is on board the ambulance allows mobile stroke unit teams to quickly assess whether a patient is having a stroke caused by a blood clot, and, if so, administer clot-busting medications.
Bradshaw says, “Stroke networks need flexibility for inbound volume. Having a top-notch administrative queue to process orders and incoming studies with little to no administrative monitoring is an absolute necessity.”
More than ever, patients receive care outside of their local hospital, and connectivity among networks is what allows for enhanced coordination between providers, leading to the best outcome for patients. In fact, many facilities are developing enhanced second opinion programs, allowing access to top providers for those who live in rural areas or people who are facing life-threatening conditions. Second opinion programs are not only highly valuable for patients, but also for hospitals, which can enhance their revenue stream with an influx of new business.
“Bridging the gaps between the EHR and other systems is a complicated yet essential piece in the creation of full interoperability between a health system and its ever-growing network,” says Bradshaw.
Developers are rolling out new innovations for healthcare systems that are improving clinicians’ ability to coordinate care, streamlining core processes and, most importantly of all, providing better outcomes for patients. Platforms like DICOM Grid’s mobile medical imaging solution are bringing patient care into sharper focus.