Monday, May 5, 2008

Can I Get That Cat Scan as a JPEG?

Thanks to Thomas Hoffman at ComputerWorld, we have this little gem of a story. It is part of a series on the top projects of the year by the Top 100 IT leaders, and with good reason!

FirstHealth of the Carolinas Inc. began replacing its film-based radiological technology with an online digital capture and storage/retrieval system in late 2005 to enable up to 300 of its radiologists and physicians to instantly access clinical images from any location, says Linda Briggs, director of application support.
That 2005 initiative was only the humble beginning. The people behind the program had much bigger plans -- plans that are reaching fruition thanks to their determined efforts. CIO David Dillehunt has had big plans from the beginning and, more importantly, the dedication to see them through. The big success is First Health's Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS):

PACS, which went live in March 2006, is providing FirstHealth with several clinical and IT-related benefits. For starters, FirstHealth has been wrestling with year-over-year data growth of 100% since 2004. With a mix of more than 650 applications to manage, the organization saw a digital storage architecture as a means to increase its operational efficiencies, reduce costs and improve patient care.

With more people currently on the planet than have existed in the entire history of earth combined, this sort of growth is hardly shocking. Capacity to handle the sort of increases future years will bring is an important concern for any project of this nature and proposed scope.

The digital imaging system has also enabled FirstHealth to slash its annual film budget from around $800,000 to about $50,000 this year, says Mike McCarty, FirstHealth's director of imaging.

$750,000 in savings? This is proof positive that electronic medical records can put a much needed dent in the cost crisis that American health care is experiencing. That is a hefty number no matter who is counting.

The PACS system relies heavily on storage and networking software from NetApp Inc. NetApp NearStore systems enable high-speed, disk-to-disk backup while serving as a permanent archive for the PACS images. NetApp SnapMirror software works with NetApp Snapshot technology to replicate all critical business and patient data among FirstHealth's three hospitals. Meanwhile, NetApp FlexVol storage virtualization software dynamically provisions and reallocates the organization's storage resources as needed.

Real-time access to patient information has helped improve the quality of patient care by enabling FirstHealth physicians to make faster decisions about treatment, says Drusi Smith, a senior clinical analyst at the organization. That in turn is helping FirstHealth reduce the length of patient stays in its hospitals, Smith says.

Once again, we see the multiple advantages that electronic medical records bring to the table. Regional efforts such as the PACS covered here are an important step forward, hopefully into a future where we achieve true health care reform!

SOURCE: "Health care goes digital with instant image access" 05/05/08
photo courtesy of brainsik, used according to its Creative Commons license

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