If medical imaging was a category on family feud, radiology and radiologist would be among the first answers given by the winning family. Perhaps, later would follow a mention of specific imaging types like xray 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 imaging is a vital diagnostic tool and essential for almost all medical specialities.
Let’s take 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 heads to a local neurosurgeon who cannot make a full assessment without access to her imaging. 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, which could take over a week.
Sadly, this dilemma of delayed care due to lack of access to prior medical imaging isn’t unusual – in fact, it’s the norm. A recent survey of over 1,100 healthcare consumers who had imaging services performed, found that it took 44% of them a day or more to move their images. Even within the walls of the hospital, CDs are often burned in the radiology department and carried up 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 our healthcare system moves in a direction of interoperability across consolidated systems, redundant imaging exams across specialities become a risk to the health of patients and high 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.
The patient of today also acts like much more of a consumer than the patient of just a few years ago. More than ever, 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% of patients would like access to their medical imaging alongside 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 can we make progress in the world of clinical trials without easily accessible anonymized imaging? And how can we 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 (NEBH) turned to the cloud to solve their imaging accessibility issue, which was 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, as over 95% 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 Ambra Health, a cloud image management vendor, and has been able to archive their entire imaging data set in a cloud VNA. Over 300-500 images are uploaded in the cloud VNA per week as surgeons use the images for pre-admission 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.
Morris Panner is CEO of Ambra Health, a medical data and image management cloud software company.
A version of this article originally appeared on Health Data Management.