Picture archiving and communication system (PACS) is an integral part of the healthcare digitalization process. If patients’ electronic health records are already a common practice for many healthcare institutions, digitalization of medical images is still underway and will become even more relevant in years to come. According to Statista, PACS and radiology information system (RIS) market is going to reach $5 billion by 2027.
With medical images available in the electronic format, clinicians can combine them with other patients’ health records. Thus, PACS directly contributes to better accuracy of the diagnostic and treatment process.
Many healthcare organizations restrain from implementing PACS into their workflow due to the technological complexity of such software, as PACS requires setting up a proper connection between modalities, clinicians’ workstations, and other healthcare software systems. This guide on integration of radiology PACS solutions provides a clear understanding of how to choose PACS software, integrate it with other systems, and maintain it in accordance with healthcare requirements like HIPAA.
In this article, we’ll briefly cover the importance and benefits of PACS software solutions for the healthcare domain. First, let’s clearly define this technology to know exactly what we’re dealing with.
PACS: clear definition
PACS is a medical imaging technology (a combination of hardware and software) that enables safe uploading, storage, retrieval, and distribution of digital medical images produced by X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound, and sonography modalities. PACS technology solutions store medical images in a particular format, DICOM (digital imaging and communications in medicine). There is also a set of DICOM standards that each healthcare technology has to comply with. Primarily, PACS technologies were introduced to improve radiology services. But currently, the use of PACS has already spread beyond the radiology department and is gaining ground in oncology, cardiology, endoscopy, pathology, dermatology, and other departments.
We can conclude that PACS software is crucial not only for radiology departments but also for the whole healthcare facility in general. Medical images can become an important element in forming an overall picture of the patients’ general health. But let’s figure out in greater detail why PACS can be very helpful for the healthcare industry.
Why is PACS important for the healthcare industry?
A regular flow of radiology examination is time and cost-consuming and may take up to several days before the patient gets the final result. Plus, there is always a risk that patients or physicians can lose hard copies of medical images. With the help of the PACS network, such risk doesn’t exist and physicians can easily find the necessary digitized medical images.
PACS solutions are essential for healthcare organizations to improve the processing and management of medical images and make them a critical element of patient care. With PACS, healthcare facilities can also establish a single database. It allows all healthcare professionals within one hospital network to have access to medical images and thus maintain a unified approach to providing health services.
PACS integration also improves clinicians’ productivity and significantly contributes to patients’ safety. Clinicians have more possibilities to provide timely and accurate patient care. In turn, patients can begin treatment quicker than it would take with the regular examination procedures.
In the next section, we’ll discuss typical features of the PACS software solution and the necessary components for this solution to work accurately.
Key features and components of PACS
Providers of modern PACS technologies can offer different feature sets but the basic one can include the following features with regard to medical images:
- Acquisition. The most important feature is acquiring medical images from different medical examination devices like X-rays, MRI, CT.
- Viewing. This basic feature is also the core one as it allows healthcare practitioners to view produced images on their diagnostic workstations, perform any necessary manipulations with images, and as a result make an accurate diagnosis.
- Storage. Storing acquired medical images is another crucial feature as it helps clinicians to have a chronological overview of the patient’s treatment.
- Archiving. This feature is required for keeping any medical imaging data on PACS servers for possible future use as well as for security reasons.
- Sharing. Such a feature allows for exchanging critical patient data between authorized users to keep everyone involved in the treatment process on the same page.
- Integration. Modern PACS solutions can also integrate with RISs and hospital information systems (HISs) to exchange relevant health data.
To properly function, the hospital PACS system also requires four critical components:
- Imaging modalities (image acquisition devices) to produce medical images such as MRI, echocardiography, ultrasound, X-ray. Such modalities are connected with a PACS server via acquisition gateway computers. These computers acquire images from medical modalities and transform them into a DICOM format.
- Communication networks. Such networks establish communication and data movement between imaging modalities, gateway computers, PACS servers, and workstations.
- PACS archive and server. From the acquisition gateway computers data is sent to PACS servers for archiving. PACS server consists of a database and archive system. The PACS archiving system has two levels: short-term and long-term archiving.
- Workstations (WSs) for display. WSs are essential elements in the PACS network. It’s hardware that allows clinicians to view medical images and make diagnoses.
Having figured out key PACS features and components, we can move to PACS benefits for your healthcare organization.
PACS benefits for healthcare services
Depending on the type of the PACS healthcare system, benefits can differ.
However, below is a list of common PACS advantages for the healthcare industry:
- Improved patient care. Enhanced patient care is a general but the most important benefit of PACS implementation. The better access physicians have to medical images, the better services they provide.
- Chronological data management. The presence of consolidated data storage thanks to PACS allows keeping all the health data in one place, simplifying its management and access to it. Improved data management helps to eliminate image duplicates and allows for tracing patient treatment in chronological order. Plus, PACS helps to minimize costs on data management and storage.
- Advanced functionalities. Digitalization of medical images allows making multiple manipulations with them like zooming in and out to notice the smallest peculiarities that hard-copy films may not show. Another example would be using specific tools and measurements that help clinicians draw lines or leave marks on the images in real-time to highlight body areas that need special attention and may be important for further examinations.
- Individual customization. PACS software can be configured in accordance with the needs of a particular department or even particular radiologists or clinicians.
- Teleradiology. The PACS imaging system allows radiologists and other clinicians to process patient data remotely. Telework brings healthcare to a new level, as clinicians become location-independent and can monitor the treatment of their patients worldwide.
- Cost-efficiency. A PACS solution allows healthcare facilities to save costs on films, ink, and printing. Even though PACS implementation may require significant initial investments, in the long run, this investment will pay off and even save money for the company.
- Vast data exchange capabilities. Radiologists and clinicians within one hospital network can easily exchange any relevant data with each other in accordance with HL7 and DICOM standards.
The above list of benefits can be prolonged for each particular PACS technology. And no matter which solution you choose, you can always customize it to the needs of your healthcare organization, and in such a manner you can ensure unique benefits relevant only to your organization. That’s the perks of modern technology, the cookie-cutter approach is no longer an option. And customization is currently of great value.
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Implementing a PACS solution is a worthwhile investment, as it has obvious and undoubted advantages for any healthcare organization regardless of its size. At first, PACS integration may require staff training to ensure all the healthcare practitioners are aware of the PACS capabilities and can use them in the right way to bring tangible value to the patients’ lives. But once the PACS workflow is finetuned, it can elevate the performance of any healthcare infrastructure. If yet PACS isn’t part of the daily routine in your hospital network, it’s time to seriously consider this solution to keep up with the pace of the global healthcare digital transformation.