In the face of the increasing trend towards digitization and digital services such as telehealth, healthcare organizations are actively looking for ways to efficiently manage administrative workflows and effectively process the growing volume of digital files and the ensuing data analytics. Custom-designed software systems – like PACS or Radiology Information Systems – that offer streamlined, secure file archiving and communications are proving to be a gamechanger for various sectors within the healthcare industry, particularly within diagnostic medical imaging.
To provide a comprehensive overview of PACS, we’ll look at:
- Definition of PACS
- Image Types PACS handles
- Major components of a PACS
- How a PACS works?
- Main uses for PACS
- Who uses PACS
- Advantages of PACS
- How RIS PACS systems operate together
- Benefits of RIS PACS integration
Before moving to the details of PACS and RIS, you can watch the video below to understand the basics of these systems.
What is a PACS?
A Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) is a medical imaging technology that provides storage and access to digital images acquired by imaging modalities. It transmits digital images and reports electronically, which eliminates the need to manually file, retrieve, and transport film jackets.
Little is known on how the system was first introduced to the medical milieu. Though generally considered to have been first developed in 1979, early adoption of the system did not see effective communication or file sharing between parties, due to insufficient capabilities in archiving and displaying images between different vendor devices. It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s – thanks to imminent government oversight – the process to develop a medical imaging storing and transmission standard was undertaken by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). This collaborative effort finally culminated in the 1993 development of what is now known as the DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) standard.
Image types PACS handles
It has become a versatile tool in managing various medical image types generated from multiple imaging instruments including:
- Ultrasound (US)
- Magnetic resonance (MR)
- Nuclear Medicine imaging
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Endoscopy (ES)
- Mammograms (MG)
- Digital radiography (DR)
- Phosphor plate radiography
The four basic components of a PACS
- Image acquisition devices (imaging modalities) – E.g., magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, PET, X-ray angiography, echocardiography, etc. These devices and acquisition gateway computers facilitate the digitization of images involving acquisition, conversion to PACS standard format (DICOM), and image data preprocessing (i.e., resizing, background removal, orientation calibration).
- Communication networks – These networks enable a smooth transmission of medical data between all the components within the PACS environment, other external applications, and play a key role in transmitting data to remote locations.
- PACS archive and server – Any patient information and imaging files are archived within the main working center of the system, the PACS server. Data storage and archiving is managed via the server’s two main components: archive system and storage media (database).
- Integrated display workstations (WS) – The display WS’s are key in enabling the clinical interpretation of the images generated via the multiple modalities. Using these WS’s, radiologists and clinicians can determine primary diagnosis, thus their alternate name, diagnostic WS’s. Basic image processing functions provided by the WS’s include access, manipulation, evaluation, and documentation.
How PACS software works
Sequenced structures are important in ensuring the system operates at peak in accuracy and quality. This sequence consists of three main structures:
- Main server –This server lies at the heart of the operation of the system in its entirety. It’s responsible for liaising with the database structure, RIS interfacing (RIS will be discussed in more detail later within this blog), DICOM imaging import and export gateway, web servers, and other related imaging distribution infrastructure.
- Database –All information pertinent to the operation of a PACS is stored here, including patient and study-related information (e.g., notes, reports, exams, etc.).
- HL7 (Health Level 7) – The part of the server that receives all RIS-generated information and distributes it to picture archiving and communication system.
Responsible for the storage and compression of DICOM imaging files, the PACS Archive is another integral structure, which is divided into two subcategories. “Full fidelity” ensures the DICOM imaging is stored using a lower compression ratio without sacrificing quality. “Clinical” optimizes reporting by utilizing higher compression ratio to streamline file size towards minimizing server space.
Main uses for PACS
The four main ways in which it is used for:
- Hard copy replacement – It is designed to be the digital replacement of traditional hard copy medical image management (i.e., film archives, etc.).
- Remote access – Its inherent architecture is tailored to enable off-site viewing and reporting capabilities beyond the scope of conventional systems (distance learning, telediagnosis) while facilitating teleradiology in allowing simultaneous access to the same information by healthcare professionals located in various areas.
- Electronic image integration platform – It serves as an electronic platform for radiology image interfacing between different medical automation systems including Electronic Medical Record (EMR), Radiology Information System (RIS), Hospital Information System (HIS), and Practice Management Software.
- Radiology workflow management – It is used by radiology personnel for workflow management related to patient exams.
Who uses PACS?
Though radiology has traditionally been the leading producer of x-ray images, PACS has been implemented in many other practices being cardiology, nuclear medicine imaging, pathology, dermatology, and oncology.
Key advantages of PACS Systems
Advantages for organizations
From the healthcare provider perspective, the system offers benefits that help organizations achieve their business growth objectives as well as optimize their patient care models. Four key benefits include:
The software is user friendly and scalable. The technology behind the PACS platform allows it to be customizable and easily integrated into any automated system, whether RIS, HIS, or EMR. PACS software can grow along with an organization, thanks to the digital platform’s inherent scalability.
Patient reports and images are easily accessible. With the help of picture archiving and communication system, studies can seamlessly be accessed from anywhere, at any time—even from mobile devices, which is ideal for physicians on-the-go. Information can also be shared electronically to other facilities, enabling remote diagnosis, consultations, and care.
Image viewing and analysis is enhanced. Using PACS software, technicians can easily manipulate and get a better view of generated images in order to assist clinicians in more effectively determining a diagnosis.
Data management is improved and more efficient. Through duplicate reduction, data integrity is maintained, allowing for consistent data accuracy and quality. Physicians can easily access prior images to ascertain a patient’s chronological radiology history to perform in-depth study comparisons.
Advantages for patients
Leveraging PACS system to streamline healthcare workflows and optimize patient care delivery can translate into the following key benefits for patients:
Receiving diagnoses quicker. Exams and tests can be performed anywhere, and the images and reports can be shared electronically to clinician teams, thereby eliminating the time lag between examination and determination.
Get more comprehensive care. Using the chronologic data and high-quality images made available via the system, physicians get a full view of a patient’s medical history, resulting in a more accurate diagnosis and holistic delivery of care.
Easy access to medical information. Patients can easily access their medical images and reports enabling them to make informed decisions regarding the quality of their care and actively engage with their health team.
Save time with payment processing. RIS/PACS can provide more accurate billing information and facilitate streamline paperless payment submissions to payers, resulting in faster turnaround times and peace-of-mind for patients.
How PACS integrates with a RIS
Healthcare organizations looking to improve their productivity and maximize usage of their radiology resources will turn to a RIS/PACS integration solution. Integrating these two solutions into one, you are basically getting the best of two worlds while optimizing service to physicians and patients. Where PACS software enables seamless, virtual real-time access to images and studies among radiology, other clinical departments and facilities, and remote teams, the imaging and workflow management information provided by a RIS can be amalgamated to create a more in-depth, extensive radiology report. Consequently, these reports contribute to an improved service experience for referring physicians and patients.
Top benefits of RIS/PACS integration
RIS/PACS systems have revolutionized the way radiology practices operate. They are the backbone for any diagnostic center or practice because of how they store and manage diagnostic images.
Having a RIS/PACS will help you streamline your workflow by executing the most critical functions such as: billing, order entry, and patient tracking. Some key benefits of integrating a RIS with PACS are:
Successful Time Management
Time is money and identifying ways to make day-to-day operations run faster and smoother could increase your business’ ROI. Using a single database RIS/PACS solution will save your staff time and money in the following ways:
- Training on an all-in-one solution: Using the same system to meet all your needs will save your organization the thousands of dollars it would take to train staff on multiple solutions that meet the same needs.
- Ease of Use: You can seamlessly enter data into this all-in-one platform, which increases consistency and reduces user errors.
Not only will a single-database RIS/PACS system allow your practice to run more smoothly, but it will also help your practice surpass your business targets in multiple ways:
- Cost-Effective: An integrated system costs much less than buying a separate RIS and PACS for healthcare management. You’ll see increased ROI within months of buying a cost-effective single database solution.
- Tools Designed for Radiology: Equipped with business intelligence tools, the RamSoft RIS/PACS system is built with features like Essence™ BI which allows your practice to advance its business goals and empower your team to identify areas of your workflow that need to be restructured.
Secure, Streamlined Data
Radiology departments and practices hold a tremendous amount of patient data as compared to other crucial sectors of healthcare. Keeping your data secure, clean, and streamlined is a critical driver for your practice. Here’s how:
- Decreased Risk of Downtime: Unlike the EMR system, RamSoft’s PowerServer™ RIS/PACS eliminates the need for HL7 and VPNs. Which means, it’s not syncing data from multiple vendors through VPN tunnels increasing anxieties that the connection may break during peak business hours. Built with HIPAA in mind, this single database virtually eliminates this issue by using only one database to backup and restore, saving you time and increasing productivity.
By acquiring PowerServer™ RIS/PACS, you will get a web-based system that does it all. A unified user experience, unlimited users, workstations and facilities and managing only one server.
Whether you are looking for a digital solution to help build a new practice or evolve your existing healthcare administrative infrastructure, a PACS or RIS/PACS integration is foundational in maximizing radiology workflow management, business optimization, ensuring data security and integrity—all of which translate into the consistent, effective delivery of patient care.
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