What is a PACS?
The Picture Archiving and Communication System, also known as the PACS, is an invaluable tool that allows physicians to easily and quickly share medical imaging reports electronically. It has become the standard system in place at hospitals and medical facilities, and healthcare organizations now consider the PACS to be an essential piece of equipment. While the introduction of PACS was a game changer decades ago, modern image storage and reporting systems are delivering a technology solution that is not only impacting quality of care but making this care more convenient for providers as well.
The Benefits of PACS
While the list of benefits is substantial, we have selected those with the greatest impact. These benefits have an impact on a daily basis and deliver measurable improvements to your efficiency and quality of care. Is your PACS having a positive impact on your imaging workflow? Would your organization benefit from improvements in these areas?
1. Enhanced Analysis & Viewing
One of the main benefits of using a PACS is the digital imaging technology they can include. PACS can help technologists and physicians by providing tools that allow for taking a closer look at study images. Most PACS solutions provide these tools and more.
Brightness/Contrast and Window Width/Window Level Adjustment
Adjusting brightness or window level will provide you with the ability to modify the center of the greyscale range, while window width selects the range of Hounsfield units for a particular image or allows you to adjust the contrast. Contrast adjustment enhances the sharpness to further delineate between anatomical structures.
Zoom and Pan
Zoom and pan allow you to focus on a desired area by bringing it closer and orienting the area of concern in the center of the frame.
Rotate and Flip
Sometimes, to view proper anatomical orientation, you may need to rotate or view a mirror of the original image. This is preferable to doing an uncomfortable head tilt to properly examine your study images on the screen.
A full set of measurement tools add significant value to your PACS. You may occasionally find that you want to double check an acquired measurement. Or, perhaps your lab protocols dictate measurement values be obtained on the PACS, post-imaging. Built in tools for post-acquisition measurement and analysis can also be hugely beneficial for practices that serve populations of uncooperative patients (sedated infants, veterinary, etc). In the event of a hectic day with a higher-than-average patient load, if someone forgets to take a measurement during an exam, the ability to take post-acquisition measurements in your PACS can provide you with a much-appreciated safety net. Some systems go a step further, and even offer integration with AI vendors for automated image analysis.
Communication and Collaboration
Tools that provide the ability to mark key images for further review, annotate images, and reorder images to tell the story of the patient can improve patient care and save providers time.
2. Improved Data Management
More than a DICOM viewer, a PACS viewer provides the ability to retrieve and view images associated with a given patient’s record, regardless of imaging modality. With a true cloud-based PACS, you can login to your PACS in the browser (no VPN required), view images stored in your PACS, and even retrieve images from your VNA.
One of the biggest hassles associated with sharing study images can be the delivery method itself, which can be time consuming and not very secure. Many imaging departments and labs copy study images to discs or USB drives to provide them to physicians (for consultation or referral) or patients (who may request a copy of their images). Some OB departments are still printing images on thermal paper for the patient. Modern cloud-PACS solutions include a much more convenient and secure method of sharing a link to study images via a smart phone or email. These methods are encrypted and require passwords to ensure that only the intended recipient can view the images.
Prior Exam Access
The use of a PACS ensures that physicians will be able to get a chronological measure of the imaging history of their patients. This is extremely helpful when used to compare multiple studies over the course of a patient’s history.
As these records are stored digitally, the right PACS should enable physicians and technologists to sort and filter study reports dynamically through flexible search criteria. This capability provides for a drastic improvement in the timeliness of patient care.
3. Unmatched Mobility
Possibly the best benefit of these systems is the ease and efficiency of access to patient images and reports. It allows tests to be performed almost anywhere, while the results can be shared to other facilities electronically as well. Staff members can also submit reports, transport or archive images, and view them remotely through portable media.
With a cloud-based PACS, your patient records are as mobile as you are. As hospital networks are growing their footprint, private practices are adding satellite locations, and many medical networks are providing mobile imaging, anywhere access has never been more important for medical professionals who need to work on-the-go. Be sure to understand if your PACS requires licenses and software installation for remote viewing, or if it’s a true browser-based application, this may be included.
4. User-Friendly, Standards-Based Reporting
Modern PACS solutions include a structured reporting component. A PACS reporting component that works out of the box with 90% of your desired functionality and the ability to quickly configure options to meet your needs, means faster implementation, more effective reporting, and time savings for clinical staff and IT teams. Additionally, if it is standards-based, it naturally encourages compliant reporting, thus assisting in accreditation and maximizing reimbursement.
User-friendly software is easy to claim. Here are some ways to assess the ease of use of a software solution:
Simple to Install and Implement
A cloud-based PACS makes installation easier, and a product with a clearly defined implementation process means less headaches. Be sure to consider how much of the IT burden the vendor will carry. A cloud-based PACS can save time for your local IT and allow them to focus on other needs.
Easy to Update
Software is outdated weeks after you purchase it. An understanding of how frequently your vendor updates the software is critical to assessing how current your application will be post-installation. If the updates are automatic and low impact it means your team keeps working and resources are not required to complete the updates. Also, regular updates mean security and reliability are improved.
Intuitive to Navigate
Remember: the software is only as good as the interface. A vendor with a proven reputation of well thought out and well executed user interfaces is a vendor you want to partner with.
Not only should your PACS software work as expected, but it should also be optimized for its architecture. If your PACS crashes, takes a long time to load, or feels like a hassle, it might not be optimized. In other words, it should assist you in completing jobs, not make doing your job harder.
5. Streamlined Workflows
A modern PACS that includes a reporting component and can seamlessly interface with your EMR should then be able to deliver on a streamlined imaging workflow.
An optimized medical imaging workflow reduces or eliminates entering data in more than one place and assists in the movement of the patient/exam through the care process. Typically, this means an order for imaging is placed, the appointment is scheduled, and this information is then available on the imaging device (so that patient information does not need to be re-entered). During the exam, imaging is performed and measurements are acquired on the imaging device. The imaging and measurement data then flow through to the PACS. While measurements can be performed in the PACS, measurements from the imaging device and measurements acquired in the PACS can both be seen in the reporting component. Imaging professionals can easily compare the patient’s prior exams with the current, and efficiently approve the report that is documenting the results of the imaging exam. Once approved, the report is routed to the patient’s chart automatically.
For just about every use case, a PACS can provide a single source of truth, where all reporting and imaging assets can be accessed and managed throughout the patient care lifecycle. When this workflow is compared to the handwritten reports, hard copy filing, and disc storage days of the past, there is truly no contest.
These are just a few of the benefits that you can gain from a PACS, which is why it is such an important part of today’s medical imaging ecosystem. Change can be daunting, but with the right system, and a team of dedicated professionals to guide you, it can be a much smoother process than you might expect.
Need more information about PACS?
Whether you are new to PACS, or are re-evaluating an existing solution, choosing the right system for your practice is important. The Studycast team is available to answer any questions you may have. We’ve worked with countless organizations who have faced similar imaging workflow decisions and are happy to talk you through it. If you would like to discuss your questions and concerns with a member of our team, you can reach us by phone: 919-277-0636 option 2, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.