PACS (picture archiving and communication system)

Contributor(s): Alex DelVecchio

PACS (picture archiving and communication system) is a healthcare technology for the short- and long-term storage, retrieval, management, distribution and presentation of medical images.

A PACS allows a healthcare organization (such as a hospital) to capture, store, view and share all types of images internally and externally. When deploying a PACS, the organization needs to consider the environment in which it will be used (inpatient, ambulatory, emergency, specialties) and the other electronic systems with which it will integrate.

The interoperability of images in separate PACS is a concern for healthcare providers, even among different providers within the same healthcare system. The transmission of medical images is technologically possible when not complicated by competing, noninteroperable systems.

A vendor neutral archive (VNA) can provide a single, consolidated archiving platform with which to host files from different PACS software. Larger healthcare systems with outdated or ineffective PACS software sometimes choose to implement an enterprise-wide VNA, rather than upgrading to a newer PACS.

A PACS has four major components:

  • Imaging systems, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed axial tomography (CAT scan), and X-ray equipment.
  • A secure network for distribution and exchange of patient information.
  • Workstations or mobile devices for viewing, processing and interpreting images.
  • Archives for storage and retrieval of images and related documentation and reports.

The increasing adoption of health information technology (HIT) is stimulating the market for PACS. One estimate projects the global PACS market will grow to $5.4 billion by 2017, up from $2.8 billion in 2012.

Healthcare organizations installing or replacing a PACS can be motivated to do so by workflow inefficiencies or a desire for a PACS that allows them to view and store all images within one system. PACS, similar to other healthcare IT systems, are subject to technological and regulatory changes that can force a care provider to consider an upgrade. In addition, providers should understand the backup services offered by their PACS vendor, or develop their own policy in instances of system downtime.

The radiology specialty is one field of medicine with a particular interest in PACS software. A radiology PACS is frequently deployed alongside a radiology information system (RIS). An RIS is used to schedule patient appointments and record a patient's radiology history, where a PACS focuses more on image storage and retrieval.

Cloud-based PACS are a type of PACS architecture that stores and backs up a healthcare organization's medical imaging data in an offsite server, not within the organization's physical location. Users with permission to access medical images can do so at any time through the cloud PACS. Cloud PACS can also enable medical personnel to view medical imaging data from any of their approved devices.

DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) is a protocol that allows for the sharing of images and other medical information. DICOM permits PACS, radiology information systems and more medical imaging systems to connect with and pass data to systems at other healthcare facilities.

This was last updated in June 2015

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How, if it all, will the future of PACS be altered by the presence of VNAs?
The information is clear, thank you so much.


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