Every Picture Tells a Story And Holyoke Medical Center’s Image-archiving System Tells It More Efficiently

It’s a frustrating situation: a patient visits a doctor’s office, and during the course of the visit needs to discuss a recent X-ray — but without being able to view it, because it’s on file back at the hospital, and an X-ray obviously can’t be in two places at once.

Or can it?

It has always been a hassle when more than one doctor wants to view a patient’s X-ray — or if the patient’s doctor wants access to the film outside the hospital where it was produced. Now, thanks to Holyoke Medical Center’s picture archiving and communication system, or PACS, that problem is a thing of the past.

PACS is a network of computers dedicated to the storage and distribution of radiological images. In effect, it replaces hard-copy film in managing the hospital’s thousands of medical images.

“We’re digitizing the radiology department,” said Jim Suprenant, radiology manager. “And that allows us to provide multiple physicians with access to imaging and reports simultaneously.

“Before this,” he explained, “if we had a film, only one doctor could have it at a time. In some situations, a physician in the Emergency Department or the ICU had a need for that image at the same time our department has a need to read it. This enables us to distribute that image to a number of physicians at the same time.”

A Simple Mouse Click

However, simultaneous viewing is only one advantage of transmitting images over a computer screen. Another is remote viewing: attending physicians can access that image not only on the hospital campus, but from their own office or even from home, via a secure Internet connection.

“So, if a patient came in here with a fracture,” Suprenant said, “the orthopedist, before he ever comes in, can see that image and talk to the patient’s doctor to expedite care.”

Mike Zwirko, HMC’s vice president for outpatient services, said that HMC has been working on obtaining PACS for a number of years, recognizing that such a system helps the hospital become much more efficient in the area of imaging.

“Since probably 70{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 75{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of our equipment is digital, it made sense to digitize the film part of it,” he said.

“Now, physicians in their offices, if they have access to the Internet, will be able to view films, as well as their patients. It will be instantaneous; no longer are we looking for film. We can also create a CD, which physicians can put right into their computers and view them there, instead of lugging films around.”

“This enables us to become much more efficient,” said Suprenant. “We can handle a large amount of data much more efficiently.”

Although PACS doesn’t improve upon the image quality of film, which has always been high, it does allow for digital manipulation of the images, which can be a great benefit to doctors and patients.

“Because it’s a digital file, the clinician can manipulate that in ways you can’t do on film,” Suprenant said. “With film, what you see is what you get. But when it’s in this electronic format, we can manipulate that image with many different functions; we can enlarge it, magnify it, and provide greater benefits to physicians who are trying to interpret it.”

Going Digital

The PACS system is one way HMC is moving into electronic record keeping, which will also encompass computerized patient records and electronic prescribing.
PACS “is a big piece of our commitment to working on electronic medical records,” Zwirko said.

He added that computerization has some cost benefits; in the case of PACS, it’s a dramatic savings in the cost of film processing and storage. But that’s not the most important reason for the change, he said.

“The improved patient safety and efficiency, and the improved communication between physicians and patients, will be dramatic.”

All that because important images are just a click away.

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