256 Shades of Grey(scale): The Dirty Little Secrets of Radiology and PACS
By Brad Levin
There is widespread agreement that radiology has been the epitome of success spreading PACS far and wide over the last two decades. Thousands of organizations transformed from the dark ages of film to digital operations. Early activity started in the mid-1990s and peaked in the mid-2000s. Once the 2000s were in full swing, many groups moved to PACS for the first time, but it was relatively common for PACS early adopters to have implemented their second or in rare cases, their third PACS by then.
Along came the late 2000s, when industry analysts KLAS and Frost & Sullivan called for the next wave of PACS replacements. Many systems had aged well beyond the average 5-7 year lifespan of PACS, and it seemed like a solid market forecast. However, in reality the replacements never came in earnest.
Fast forward to present day and the institutional use of PACS has stagnated. PACS continue to be used past their useful life, problems persist, and upgrades are delayed. The other contributing factor is a majority of institutions today are using PACS born in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Their vendors purchased PACS largely through acquisition, and while these systems have been upgraded periodically, most of the core architectures remain largely unchanged.
This would be fine if time stood still, but of course it hasn’t. Over the last two decades, modalities have advanced at breakneck speed, producing computed/digital radiography, multislice CT, PET/CT, digital mammography, and the newest modality, digital breast tomosynthesis (or 3D mammography).
Modern technology has also dramatically changed consumer and physician expectations. Everyone expects instant gratification. Pay phones are extinct and we all use smartphones. The world is app-driven and tablet accessible. LPs/CDs have been replaced with MP3s. Medicine is mobile, and we’ve ditched our VCRs/DVDs for streaming media.
Today’s challenging healthcare environment, supported by yesterday’s PACS technology, has led to widespread chronic problems and missed opportunities. When I was told recently that some of the most senior leaders in imaging informatics had convened and were discussing how "Radiology Has Solved The Problems of Going Digital", I was stunned. Based on what I see at community hospitals, academic medical centers, IDNs, imaging centers, radiology groups, and teleradiology vendors, I know that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The vast majority of practices are digital, but are their problems solved? In my view, absolutely not. Just this week I spoke with a PACS administrator from a 400-bed hospital in the Southwest. I was told that when their network access peaks, performance gets crushed on PACS, taking up to a minute to launch even a small CR study. Radiologists launch the study on PACS, grab a coffee, and hope that when they come back they can start reading the study. While this may or may not be just a PACS issue, it is a persistent, unacceptable problem nonetheless.
If you are unaware of the state of your imaging operations, I encourage you to speak to your radiologists, referring physicians, PACS administrators, and your IT staff. You may also consider meeting with your affiliates, and plan on attending the upcoming SIIM 2013. If you tackle today’s Imaging problems with the same vigor you used to transform from film to digital, your problems will quickly go into the rearview mirror.
Brad Levin is general manager, North America for Visage Imaging.