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VNAs in healthcare: Where they are now and where they need to go

Vendor neutral archives may seem self-explanatory but some experts assert that VNAs are much more than simply an image archive.

Joe Marion's concern is that many healthcare organizations aren't focused on the big picture when it comes to vendor neutral archives (VNAs).

Marion, principal at Healthcare Integration Strategies, LLC, which provides imaging strategy and implementation services, said that many healthcare organizations are simply looking to replace their old PAC systems and buy more capacity.

"They're looking specifically at a singular service area and system and just looking perhaps maybe to save some money in the way that they store information," Marion said.

The other extreme is when a healthcare organization is thinking down the road to patient portals and other mechanisms of population health and personalized medicine.

"A lot of organizations, I think, don't know," Marion said. "They aren't up to speed… to know exactly where they should be."

VNAs for efficiency and saving money

Todd Richardson, senior vice president and CIO, and his team at Aspirus, a health system in Wausau, Wis., are implementing a VNA for the purpose of increasing efficiency and saving money.

Todd RichardsonTodd Richardson

Richardson explained that right now they have multiple hospitals with disparate imaging systems sitting behind them, and each with their own proprietary storage.

"So you're paying lots of dollars for proprietary storage by people like GE and Phillips and Fuji and, you know, name the vendor of an imaging system and you have all these disparate high-cost imaging storage platforms behind them," Richardson said.

Not only that, but it makes locating a certain image for a certain patient difficult unless you know exactly where that image resides.

This is another reason why Richardson and his team have decided to implement a VNA, so that there is a single-storage platform where all images live and then make it all accessible via a universal viewer.

VNAs for population health

But Marion believes that VNAs are more than just an archive. "It's image management," he said.

Joe MarionJoe Marion

This is important for population health, managing the health of groups of people, and being more proactive when it comes to a patient's health.

"If I'm following a patient while following a particular disease pattern, let's say that I'm seeing there's a spike in… lung cancer in a particular area or region, then having access to the image data along with just the other patients' clinical data is going to be important and valuable to managing that process," Marion said.

VNAs for personalized medicine

Consumers will eventually want access to all of their health information, including their medical images, Marion said.

In fact, he has had firsthand experience of needing access to his medical images but having no way of getting them when he ended up in a hospital's ER in Florida.

"If I had access to my scans I could've saved myself half a day and a lot of money in the context of unnecessary CTs and MRIs that we've done for no particular reason other than the fact that they didn't have access to those images," he said.

This could manifest as a patient portal or other technologies. For example, Microsoft created HealthVault where someone can store their own health information.

James WellmanJames Wellman

James Wellman, CHCIO, CIO at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton, Oklahoma, added that this could also be done via telemedicine.

"The way these viewers work on most of these, we can actually pass that image to the patient remotely, you know, and actively have a discussion," he said. Meaning the patient could remain in their home, view their medical images, and have a discussion with their doctor about the image.

Wellman also believes making patients' medical images more readily accessible to them also engages and empowers them when it comes to their own health, whether having all their health information at their fingertips shows them the impact of certain lifestyle decisions or gives them the ability to take that information to another doctor to get a second opinion.

Marion said that, "If a patient is more enabled and able to access that information, I think it will have a positive impact on healthcare both from an efficiency point of view as well as a cost perspective." 

Next Steps

Vendor neutral archives and PACS 3.0 will coexist

Expand healthcare imaging capabilities with the right VNA

The VNA systems market is ramping up

Dig Deeper on PACS (Picture archiving and communication system)