There is no way around it. New technology is ever advancing and, as such, ever-changing the world as once we knew it. It is no different for the presence of radiology PACS, the picture archiving and communication system used in today’s healthcare technology to store, retrieve, manage, distribute and present medical images. It applies to all environments in the field of healthcare including inpatient, ambulatory, emergency and specialties plus their ability to integrate with other electronic systems used in the field of medicine.
The world has witnessed how such technological innovations as magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound and computerized tomography have been nothing short of revolutionary. In large part, these advances in the field of medicine have contributed to the changing pattern of activity affecting the ways in which radiologists perform their skillful work. It was with the introduction of PACS, however, that people really began to see the need to reform their work practice.
PACS has created new possibilities for distributed radiology workflow. Assimilating this new technology has not been without its inherent challenges, though, the greatest of which attributing to a generational difference between senior and junior radiologists. Managing the changes in diagnostic practice has gone hand in hand with the opportunities PACS has presented along the way.
The professional role of radiologists having acquired the years-long skill of “the art” of reading single-sheet films has had to shift. In essence, the contextual framework with respect to diagnosing images and the mental approach used in the interpretation of digital examination have undergone a transformation.
The use of PACS has brought radiologists into a more actively engaged partnership with clinicians toward the goal of correct diagnosis. Focused more on discussion in consultation, what was once perceived as a threat to their independence, radiologists through the use of PACS have discovered the opportunity for new services being offered by their departments.
Through a variety of techniques available to radiologists to present their findings, a new focus on diagnostic practice has penetrated all levels among PACS users outside of radiology. This access to images by clinicians affords the opportunity to ask more detailed questions of radiologists. Radiologists, in turn, have become more engaged in the overall diagnosis, treatment and care of the patient. Clinicians independently undertake “easy readings” while radiologists realize a greater specialization in their work as they focus on the more complex methods available through the use of PACS. It has proven to be a “win-win” situation as the concept of teamwork has grown.
With the use of PACS, there is no longer the need to house film archives. Digital storage continues to expand in available capacity as the costs continue to decrease. Cloud storage provides for instant access to prior images by multiple practitioners in different physical locations. Remote access is expanding conventional systems through teleradiology and telediagnosis. Interoperability is achieved through interfacing with other automation systems, such as:
- Hospital Information System (HIS)
- Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
- Practice Management Software (PMS)
- Radiology Information System (RIS)
More PACS include web-based interfacing to access the internet or Wide Area Network (WAN), usually accessible through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSN) for security purposes. HIPAA requires backup copies of patient images in the event of loss from the system. PACS has several methods for this, including sending images to a separate storage computer or for off-site storage. The data saved in the PACS may be uniquely tagged with patient identifiers in order to merge datasets from multiple hospitals, even if these centers tend to use different ID systems internally.
With such demonstrated success, the majority of hospitals globally plan to adopt health information technology (HIT). The global PACS market is estimated to grow to $5.4 billion by the year 2017, which is up from the $2.8 billion seen in 2012. With this level of support in the workflow for process-oriented treatment of patients, radiologists are becoming a vital contributor offering both interesting and qualitative information to PACS users.