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Meaningful Use Spurs RIS Upgrade Plans

December 20, 2011
by John Degaspari
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Survey points to an interest in more robust radiology information system solutions

A recent survey suggests the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, whose focus is to stimulate the adoption of electronic health records, is having a ripple effect on planned radiology information system (RIS) purchases as well.

The 2011 U.S. Radiology Information Systems Study by CapSite, a healthcare technology consultancy in Williston, Vt., polled leaders at 360 hospitals across the U.S., distributed among small, medium, and large organizations. (Of the respondents, roughly 200 were hospitals with fewer than 200 beds, 100 with between 200 and 400 beds, and the remainder with more than 400 beds.)

Among the survey’s highlights is  the finding that 71 percent of respondents are aware that meaningful use incentive payments apply to radiologists as eligible physicians under the HITECH Act, with 51 percent of participants saying they had either already applied for MU incentive payments or will be applying in the near future. In addition, 53 percent of recent RIS purchases were part of a broader enterprise clinical EHR procurement, representing a shift in RIS procurement practices compared to several years ago. The market is mature:  61 percent of RIS systems installed in hospitals today are at least five years old.

Gino Johnson, CapSite senior vice president and general manager, notes that “Almost three-quarters of respondents are now aware that meaningful use incentives apply. We were not expecting it to be that high.” He says efforts among RIS vendors to raise MU awareness among radiologists have been successful. “That group was a little behind; there was so much focus on EHRs that RIS and PACS were in the periphery,” he says.

Shift in RIS Purchase Plans
A shift in trends around the purchasing of EHR solutions brought about by meaningful use criteria has resulted in a shift in how hospitals plan to make their next RIS purchase. When asked to describe their most recent RIS purchase, 53 percent of respondents said it was as part of a broader enterprise EHR system purchase; the remainder was about evenly divided between those who purchased a standalone RIS, and those who purchased a RIS in combination with a PACS solution.

When questioned about their RIS preferences, only 4 percent indicated they preferred a standalone system. Most indicated that they prefer to purchase RIS as part of an EHR clinical system. The survey puts hard numbers behind a trend that has been underway for several years, Johnson says.

Johnson also notes that hospitals with aging RIS solutions may be at the point of replacing the systems. Many of those providers have kept RIS replacement as a back burner issue as they focused on meaningful use. Some hospitals may be ready to move on, Johnson notes. “As they get comfortable around Stage 1, and are looking at some other aspects of their IT infrastructure that maybe have been neglected over the past four or five years, they are in some cases realizing that their RIS solutions are getting long in the tooth,” he says. In fact, according to the survey, 45 percent of respondents said they were considering planning to either purchase a new RIS or upgrade the one they already have.

Seeking Guidance on MU
Many organizations are looking for guidance when it comes to meaningful use and RIS. When asked about their organization’s strategy, 61 percent said they were working with their current RIS/PACS vendor to optimize the use of their current RIS/PACS solution. Other respondents were employing a number of different strategies, including engaging or considering the engagement of a consultant to assist in the process. Another 10 percent were either initiating a search process for a new RIS/PACS solution or were in the process of doing an evaluation of a new solution. Only 9 percent said that achieving or documenting meaningful use was not a primary concern for their organization.

When asked if they would be applying for meaningful use incentives, 50 percent said either they would in the near future, or that they already had; and 46 percent said they were unsure at this time. Only 4 percent said no.

Johnson notes that respondents expressed an interest in more robust RIS solutions that would encompass additional functions like order entry and management reporting, which in many cases are non-RIS solutions. If the RIS also included automated critical results notification and various marketing tools, this would make an even more compelling case for a hospital to replace its current RIS for one that is more robust, he says.