April 2011

RIS and PACS : Defining Trends in Radiology

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With the advent of RIS and PACS, the era of digital radiology has arrived

By Divya Chawla

The advent of picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) has allowed for digitally capturing, storing and retrieving medical images and other related information at anytime, from anywhere. Replacing the traditional hard copy films used for radiology reports, PACS offers immense benefits in terms of saving costs and enhancing quality. Sharing his perspective on the benefits of PACS, Dr Ashish Dhawad, Founder & CEO, Medsynaptic, said, “PACS not just helps the hospital to go filmless by reducing cost of consumables like films but also helps improve staff performance by increasing their productivity and managing workflows efficiently.” Together with radiology information systems (RIS), the productivity of a healthcare provider can be tremendously enhanced by bringing in efficiently managed solutions for multiple departments.

The Need

The complexity of the current healthcare delivery system is the biggest bottleneck for communication among caregivers resulting in fragmentation of patient care. To address these issues, hospitals across the world, are now implementing processes to facilitate clinical integration in an effort to improve patient care and safety. Clinical informatics, including image storage in a PACS, represents a tool whereby clinical integration can be accomplished, offering a seamless working environment.

Initially developed to archive, retrieve and view images, the functions of PACS have now evolved from storing images to include data and workflow management. The accessibility and portability of patient radiographic imaging offered by PACS has revolutionalised the practice of radiology, thereby providing immense benefit to the medical fraternity.

Defining the need of a seamlessly integrated RIS/PACS solution in today’s healthcare organisations, Suresh Ranganathan, Chief Executive Officer, Agfa Healthcare India, said, “I believe there are two dimensions to the growing significance of RIS/PACS in India’s healthcare domain. On the one hand, there is a pressing need to improve the workflow in large institutions (mainly government owned) with robust, proven, high-end systems in the context of high workload environments. On the other axis, we have an urgent need for simple, cost-effective solutions to address the image management requirements for the huge market of private radiology practices and small hospitals.”

Beyond Radiology

The many possible specialities where PACS can offer benefits include cardiology, ophthalmology, pathology, medical imaging, dermatology, trauma and endoscopy. As cardiological imaging uses the same modalities as radiology, PACS can be easily integrated with cardiology. RIS remains an option for laboratories and hospitals, where cardiology is performed by both radiologists and cardiologists. Future developments will include output from various specialties to be stored in PACS without integration of separate software.

Gaurav Mundra, Director and Chief Operating Officer, Truworth India said, “RIS/PACS is going to be the next big wave in healthcare IT for larger hospitals. They will need special support in integration with existing systems and legacy equipment. They must look at the cloud as an option to expensive hardware and maintenance. Pricing should move to an ASP model too.” He adds, “Once we have enough bandwidth to put all the images and data on the cloud, the cost would go down dramatically as hospitals would no longer need the expensive storage and servers for processing. Compatibility with legacy systems is the biggest driver as costs for new systems is very high. If there are solutions that allow using older equipment or existing pieces of software with the new RIS/PACS, we have a winner.”

Indian Scenario

The market penetration of PACS in India is gaining momentum owing to the growing popularity of digitisation at the level of hospitals and healthcare delivery centres. Sharing his perspective on the demand for PACS in India, Dr Ashish Dhawad said, “India is witnessing a revolution in PACS with several hospitals including smaller diagnostic centers implementing solutions to manage their digital images. Fortunately, India has availability of high-tech RIS/PACS solutions like Medsynapse at affordable costs and this has helped in rapid acceptability and increased market for such solutions.”

The major drivers for the growth of PACS in India include increasing adoption across imaging centers and hospitals, advancing communication and enterprise technologies, and ability of PACS systems to be integrated with other imaging modalities. As the PACS technology has now evolved beyond being just a radiology-centric technology to a data management technology for various departments under a healthcare facility, the benefits it offers to the healthcare facility have multiplied. Further, increasing demand for advanced reporting and management capabilities owing to rise in imaging data volumes, coupled with technological advancements, and extending benefits beyond the radiology department to other modalities, are the major drivers for growth.

The challenge is to extend the reach of these technologies. Most importantly, India being a cost-sensitive market, the extent to which PACS-like technologies can evolve is limited. Hopefully, in future healthcare providers will realise the need to balance costs with the benefits of IT implementation and opt for solutions like PACS for better delivery of care.

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