A few years ago, your choices for sharing medical images were quite limited. It came down to two options, CDs or virtual private networks (VPNs). Image exams were burned onto CDs and mailed to a new destination, or they were given to a patient to hand-carry to an appointment. For technologically savvy institutions, VPNs were implemented as secure pipelines to connect various institutions for data sharing.
While CDs and VPNs are not going away anytime soon, the introduction of cloud-based solutions has started to transform the way critical diagnostic imaging is distributed.
The future of medical image sharing is undergoing major changes. Wouldn’t it be nice to map out what’s on the horizon? What would you change today in order to plan for tomorrow?
[Tip: Download this reports on 5 trends that will change the informatics industry in 2014, for insights from the experts]
In many ways, the future can be predicted because it’s already our reality. To quote my favorite science fiction writer, William Gibson, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” In fact, several early developments are helping to shape how medical information sharing will evolve for years to come. Below we outline six trends occurring today that are paving the way for medical image sharing.
1: Accessibility and Sharing Economy Gaining Traction in Healthcare
The banking and financial industries have given consumers instant access to information. This same methodology is starting to hit healthcare. Today’s patients are becoming increasingly accustomed to having information at their fingertips when and where they need it. Patient portals are beginning to take hold, but most of the healthcare industry is still failing to provide patients with access to image exams and sharing capability.
RSNA Image Share, a network created to enable radiologists to share medical images with patients using personal health records, aims to change this. During a recent pilot project 1,383 patients enrolled in the service, accounting for 5,807 imaging exams. A patient participation survey revealed an average satisfaction score of 1.5 (1 most satisfied—5 least satisfied), and 95 percent of patients ranked the tool either “very important” or “important”.
2: Providers Are Going Virtual to Grow Medical Presence
Physician referral networks and second opinions have existed for as long as medicine itself. The new generation of providers is taking it to the next level.
Take the example of the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI), a world-leading brain and spine center located in Phoenix, Arizona. When they recently launched a second opinion portal for image sharing, they saw patient interest jump and individuals began accessing BNI’s care from all over the country.
Patients in remote, rural areas who couldn’t easily access this type of care in the past, all of a sudden had a way to get what they needed most.
3: Increased Demand for Automation and Workflow Management
Large organizations managing high volumes of images are seeking out ways to reduce error-prone manual processes. Smarter data exchange means understanding when and how to automate certain functions. One Texas-based healthcare system is using advanced workflow management to improve image exchange efficiency. By implementing routing rules and custom workflow management, the health system is able to push upwards of 200,000 image exams a month to various DICOM destinations.
4: Interoperability Takes Center Stage
Most of the operational and clinical data collected by healthcare institutions is locked in closed systems that weren’t designed for interoperability. The idea of breaking down vendor silos is starting to take center stage.
Establishing common platforms, systems, and standards-based interfaces across a network is helping to connect care providers. When systems interact, people are more likely to interact. One of the key areas where this is coming to light is through health information exchanges (HIEs). Only a small portion of U.S.-based HIEs have incorporated an image exchange component into their data sharing abilities, but the sharing of diagnostic imaging holds great promise for patient outcomes and efficiency. In 2013 it was estimated that out of the roughly 300 HIEs in existence, less than 2 percent support medical images. This is beginning to change with the rise of image-enabled HIEs.
5. Making sense of Big Data in Medical imaging
Major hospital systems are finding that their data volumes exploded since shifting to digital. The impact of big data in imaging is just beginning to reveal itself as organizations strategize on better ways to collect, store, and secure imaging data. Clinical trials for instance, are beginning to apply big data strategies to better inform decision-making.
6: Reduced Skepticism towards Cloud
Providers, who had shied away from the cloud in the past, are coming around to the idea of online medical image exchange. Even more importantly, the business leaders at major healthcare institutions are demanding cloud-based solutions from IT teams. A main driver behind cloud adoption is the manifest business benefit of the cloud, coupled with reduced skepticism. As cloud technologies dominate in other industries, healthcare is following the trend.
The six trends laid out in this piece are held together by a common theme, medical image sharing will rely on cloud technology. As with so many things, technology advances will bring opportunity both for institutions and individuals as they master new areas and bring new capacities to light.