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Vendor neutral archives are not yet poised to topple PACS

VNAs cannot yet fully contend with PACS in the medical imaging market, and user interface problems and other technical concerns are to blame.

Many times I’ve looked over the results that SearchHealthIT compiled from its latest vendor neutral archive (VNA) survey, and one statistic from the poll continues to bother me: Nearly 15% of respondents said the biggest technical challenges they face with VNAs are usability and user interface (UI) problems.

When I hear about UI obstacles, I know they’re not insurmountable -- plenty of soft­ware and cloud companies overcome such technical design snags -- but at the same time, a bad UI is like putting a “Do Not Enter” sign near your front door instead of a welcome mat.

So I’m not surprised by the overall con­clusion drawn in in our new handbook, Archiving the Vendor Neutral Way, that the VNA mar­ket is not yet strong enough to pull together the patchwork of picture archiving and com­munication systems (PACS) that hospitals use to man­age medical imaging efforts.

In addition to exploring the survey results, the handbook also discusses:

  • How all vendor neutral archives are not truly vendor neutral
  • What's behind the slowly growing market for VNAs in medical imaging
  • How CIOs are rethinking data storage

The VNA approach: Central imaging

The idea behind VNAs -- to standardize and archive images from different systems into a central repository -- needs to succeed. Nurses, physicians, lab workers and others want the ease of retrieving a patient’s medical images in real time without having to log on to multiple proprietary PACS archives or track down exactly in which vendor system an image resides.

Beyond UI qualms, other technical challenges for VNAs raised in our survey results include the following:

  • Lack of customer support
  • Training staff members to use a vendor neutral archive
  • Concerns about the ability of a VNA to scale
  • Connectivity problems to PACS
  • Interoperability issues with other systems
  • Inadequate support for analytics
A bad UI is like putting a 'Do Not Enter' sign near your front door instead of a welcome mat.

Whew. That's a broad array of concerns facing VNAs, and in 2015, it's a shame to see hospitals and providers worried about customer support from vendors.

An interesting point came up about this aspect in an article last year by PhysiciansPactice.com. Although customer service is not a technical element behind VNAs, it is a must-have feature in how providers select such a system, a director of medical imaging told the website.

Medical imaging with patient needs in mind

Given all of the trepidations, convincing health systems to spend hun­dreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on VNA installations won’t go far if employees feel the systems aren’t user-friendly. VNA ven­dors need to improve their products’ usability to better satisfy those 15% of naysayers -- or else risk letting hospitals continue to incorpo­rate a growing collection of PACS that no lon­ger offer a perfect fit because they are aging or acquired by mergers.

The latter scenario sounds like business as usual, which puts clinicians firmly in the back seat in terms of access to medical imaging, including pictures, scans and videos. Timely patient care deserves more.

Scott Wallask is news director for TechTarget's Business Applications and Health IT groups. Questions about vendor neutral archives? Email him at swallask@techtarget.com and follow him on Twitter: @Scott_HighTech.

Next Steps

Vendor neutral archives appear to be gaining traction

Vendor neutral archive vs. PACS: To replace or integrate?

This was last published in March 2015

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