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New healthcare imaging strategy weighing on provider CIOs

For IT budgets, many recent surveys show that most IT executives still find that 70% to 80% of their current available dollars are spent keeping the lights on. The remainder of the budget typically is allocated for initiatives and technologies that improve patient care and safety.

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'Anywhere access' to data via Web portals or VNA mobile apps can, for patients, simplify the process of retrieving medical images.

Needs for data storage, driven by everything from EHRs and imaging to data from mergers and acquisitions, continue to increase the demand for space. This growth forces CIOs to reevaluate their healthcare imaging strategy and current archive systems. From there, they must determine what new systems can provide archiving, adequate storage, data sharing capabilities as well as analytics and needs for robust and flexible storage systems.

The two largest growth areas seen in healthcare when it comes to data is in imaging and EHR. With this increase in data, IT executives are evaluating their current radiology information systems, picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and vendor neutral archives (VNAs). Some need to be replaced, others upgraded or simply integrated with other systems.

IT departments are considering their imaging archiving systems for reasons such as improving workflows, aligning with the requirements of meaningful use stage 2 and becoming more adaptable to scalability requirements as well as addressing data centralization and archiving. When drawing up your healthcare imaging strategy, keep the following considerations in mind:

Scalability and efficiency of the systems: With the number of imaging applications in the typical healthcare environment, IT constantly has to provision different systems and thus create multiple imaging servers. This leads to inefficiencies and complex systems. IT staff at many providers have come to see the beauty in a centralized imaging repository that helps reduce cost and creates operational efficiency while still meeting regulatory requirements and compliance needs. With the availability of VNA systems that are application-agnostic and have the ability to offer shared storage to different imaging systems, IT recognizes the advantages of some of the "active" archive systems.

Meaningful use: With the need to deliver medical imaging to referring physicians and to HIEs, having archiving systems in place to consolidate all the PACS and other imaging products into one single system as the source of image data is crucial. This enables meeting the medical imaging sharing requirements outlined within meaningful use stage 2 and what could be coming in stage 3 as well, if final rules don't deviate from preliminary iterations CMS has released.

Workflow improvement: "Anywhere access" to data via Web portals or VNA mobile apps can, for patients, simplify the process of retrieving medical images. It also enables a multitude of ways to view the data. This improves workflow significantly, as clinicians don't have to constantly switch systems and apps to view different images.

With the forecasted growth of cloud-based storage and use of smartphones by physicians to access health records electronically including imaging, centralized global archive systems for all imaging needs will help reduce complexity and deliver critical data from one source during the point of care. It will also improve data access, which drives new analytics initiatives. It all lays the groundwork for future IT functionality where all these centralized images can be replicated offsite to cloud-based storage without having to connect each internal imaging source.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

This was first published in January 2014

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