Spiralling PACS costs: Are there alternatives?

Picture archiving and communication systems (PACS)have been the go-to option for medical imaging for several decades, and despite some shortcomingsmany healthcare providers are engaged in upgrading their PACS system to a new generation. HylandEMEAHealthcare director,PhilColbourne,warns that this can involve significant investments and reduced systems flexibility,with costs set to spiral as digitisation advances.

PACS started off as a relatively cost-effective way of storing images, however, regular upgrades and maintenance to storage platforms and other associated software have been pushing costs upwards. Now aging systems are required to cope with ever greater demands on storage, while many PACS systems still require specialised hardware for clinicians to actually view and use the images. Longer term, devices will become more

powerful, specialised and expensive as the need to cope with larger volumes and more sophisticated images grows. This represents another inbuilt cost spiral that is unlikely to

recede, if hospitals continue to rely solely on PACS for imaging. Proprietary clinical IT systems like PACS have healthcare providers effectively locked into single imaging solutions that can make image storage and management, as well as sharing images within and outside the organisation, extremely complicated and costly. Fortunately, alternatives are available. One solution to the conundrum is to use an enterprise imaging strategy that is compatible with PACS, while also allowing other imaging systems to continue to be used within the wider technology infrastructure.

Such systems will operate from a centralised data store, with users simply accessing the data, as and when they require it. This is a far more effective way of working with data – resembling the ease of access and use akin to a cloud-hosted system – with the potential to save on storage and maintenance in the long run, by avoiding duplication. An enterprise imaging strategy, underpinned by a centralised system such as the one in the earlier example will produce benefits and savings immediately. Such a system will really come into its own a few years down the line, when a hospital needs to scale up or once again upgrade its imaging systems. With the right enterprise imaging system in place, any images or documents from the central system can be viewed from any device – even a standard smartphone or tablet – allowing for significant savings on hardware.

In terms of scalability, the option to use

industry-standard devices will keep it simple on the hardware side, while in terms of imaging software, you are no longer tied to PACS alone. Arguably, moving to a centralised system could be a first step to abandoning PACS altogether, although it would not necessarily be the aim at this stage. What it does provide, however, is an option to use other kinds of image formats at any point, alongside PACS. It is therefore a ticket to escaping ties to a single imaging systems provider and moving onto a more competitive footing in terms of technology supplies. Indeed, the implementation of such an enterprise imaging approach starts with the adoption of a vendor-neutral strategy that eliminates proprietary data stores and gives you control of all of your imaging data. By integrating a vendor-neutral archive (VNA) with your PACS, you not only streamline Digital Imaging and Communications in


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