By Richie Pfeiffer, AuntMinnie.com contributing writer

August 2, 2017 -- As technology evolves, more specialties across the healthcare spectrum are recognizing the value of enterprise-available medical imaging. To succeed today, IT leaders and medical imaging departments must collaborate to create enterprise image strategies that meet patient clinical needs for image sharing.

More than 57 different clinical areas need access to imaging data within their local networks and to share with outside providers, who typically get involved when patients receive CT or MR scans at a standalone imaging center, seek second opinions, need to provide hospital images to a primary care or specialist provider, or secure referrals to specialists.

Richie Pfeiffer
Richie Pfeiffer, vice president of product management at LifeImage.

Hospital and health system chief information officers (CIOs) are taking notice, as informaticists in the different specialties tap them to organize and implement enterprise-grade image sharing. Image-sharing technology is more frequently adopted at an enterprise level in a process driven by the CIO and the chief financial officer (CFO), with the radiology department influencing -- but not owning -- the decision-making process.

Enterprise architecture: Image exchange built to last

Today's health system CIOs are increasingly interested in implementing imaging strategies that go beyond storage to address essential clinical workflow pain points. An enterprise imaging strategy is much more than the previously conceived radiology-specific approach and comprises the right tools for each "-ology" to do its work of interpretation and review of images. It's essential to have a user interface that gives providers quick access and visualization, resolution, and perspective covering the needs of those specialists on myriad networks.

Here are four key characteristics for a successful enterprise imaging strategy:

  1. Catalog all provider needs. Where are the specialists who need free, secure exchange of images? Radiology, cardiology, and oncology are the usual suspects, followed by emergency medicine and referring physicians. Each group might not need deep-featured imaging tools, but they still depend on access to images and interpreting provider reports to make real-time decisions on clinical care. Make a list to get a handle on the scope of the imaging strategy needed, and make sure it facilitates true, real-time collaboration between physicians and enables them to look at the same image on their respective monitors at the same time, instead of relying on verbal descriptions.
  2. Respect the experts. IT experts design and execute the solutions required for the clinical experts to address patient problems. Talk to the specialists who are using the imaging systems and tailor an enterprise-wide implementation that solves their real problems so they can deliver better, more efficient care.
  3. Choose a hybrid network-and-cloud model. One side facilitates sharing within the network firewall, while the cloud component gives providers outside the firewall secure access to needed imaging studies. Doing less only cements future workflow problems. This setup enables physician collaboration outside of a network for referrals and second-opinion reviews.
  4. Roll out first to the specialties that need it most. If IT staff has not set up a formal imaging workflow for emergency medicine and stroke neurologists, chances are that those specialists have devised an ad-hoc workflow to share images. Clinicians for whom treatment time is crucial will benefit the most from enterprise imaging.

A key entry point

Radiology remains a key entry point for images on a network, but it's not the only one; understanding this dynamic is a crucial facet of the enterprise imaging strategy. It's incumbent upon IT to support medical imaging's needs, but there are more specialties whose imaging access and use need to be addressed. Once all of the back-end technical issues of an enterprise imaging implementation are addressed, imaging repositories essentially become part of an open system with a common viewer that's integrated with the electronic medical record.

And finally, to build an effective plan of action, medical imaging leaders spanning diverse specialties should sit on planning committees for developing enterprise imaging strategies. After all, they were the earliest adopters of imaging among the specialties, and they have the most institutional knowledge of how the technologies and workflows unite to create positive patient outcomes.

Richie Pfeiffer is vice president of product management at medical image sharing provider LifeImage.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AuntMinnie.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular vendor, analyst, industry consultant, or consulting group.


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