Medical imaging has evolved quite a bit since the days of the first X-ray, with new technologies like the cloud and artificial intelligence transforming the way radiologists and other imaging professionals view and store images. However, many healthcare professionals are still using picture archiving and communication system software to store and transmit electronic medical images and reports. One of the advantages of a PACS is that, unlike film-based storage, it reduces the amount of time needed to retrieve, distribute or display a medical image.
The use of digital imaging technologies like PACS provides clinicians with immediate access to older scans and reports as well as more up-to-date medical data for patients. This improves the overall workflow, empowering doctors with additional tools that can enhance the process of formulating a diagnosis and the patient's treatment plan. Because PACS software can communicate patient information electronically, it further expedites and improves patient care.
With a PACS, a healthcare provider can access patient information or medical images essentially from anywhere in the world and review the most up-to-date scans and reports almost instantly. There is no longer a need to file, store or retrieve the images or other patient data manually because that information can be securely stored digitally on premises or in the cloud.
Cloud-based PACS software
A cloud-based PACS is a type of server-based architecture that healthcare organizations use to house and back up their medical imaging data -- as required by the HIPAA Security Rule -- to a secure off-site server. Some healthcare organizations, such as Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, have invested in cloud-hosted PACS services as a backup to the main system. And Mercy Technology Services (MTS), the IT division of the St. Louis-based Mercy health system, announced last month that it had developed a cloud-based imaging platform that it planned to commercialize for other hospitals to deploy. The Mercy PACS bundles a vendor neutral archive (VNA) and workflow orchestrator, as well as speech recognition and reporting, in a SaaS model that is hosted in the MTS cloud.
Current and future trends for PACS software
As the needs of healthcare providers continue to expand outside of traditional workflows, and with the creation of newer scanning technologies, more electronic medical image management systems are being developed. Much of healthcare is going mobile, and mobile imaging could offer a cost-effective alternative for organizations that can't invest in a full overhaul of their existing PACS software. However, given the size of smartphone and tablet screens, it may be difficult for radiologists and other healthcare providers to read a medical image accurately on a mobile device.
Another complicating issue for PACS users is that the technology is in a regular state of flux with respect to features and services. Some users will elect to drop one imaging service for another vendor every few years as a result, triggering a need to migrate data from one to the other while trying to prevent data loss. Because of this, VNAs are considered more stable when it comes to migrating data at the archive level. Still, it is unlikely that VNAs will completely replace PACS in healthcare environments.