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Image Sharing: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

September 20, 2011
by Joe Marion
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The industry is increasing its emphasis on handling imaging from an enterprise perspective

This past week I read about the Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) effort for something known as the Image Share Project, while at the same time I received some information from Merge Healthcare on Adopting an Enterprise Imaging Strategy. The increased emphasis on handling imaging from an enterprise perspective, as well as addressing new and innovative ways to share images leads me to believe that perhaps enterprise imaging’s time is quickly coming!

A recent article highlighted the RSNA’s initiative to secure funds from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to be applied toward development of an image sharing network based on standards using the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) standards directed toward personal health records (PHR’s). The proposal was predicated on growing consumer use of online services, and an assumption that they could be applied to healthcare.

The project is working with pilot sites and vendor partners to implement a patient-centric model for sharing images and reports to replace current workflow practices of using CD’s. The model is akin to an ATM and bank, whereby the hospital is the bank and the image share service is the ATM. The image sharing service acts as a clearinghouse, receiving the information using the IHE Cross-enterprise Document Sharing for Imaging (XDS-I.b) profile, and providing it to the PHR service. Both LifeImage and Dell’s InsiteOne are participating PHR vendors for the service. The project phase will run over the next two years. Since it targets people who have an immediate health problem, the expectation is that it may have more success than general consumer initiatives such as Google’s failed Google Health service.

The Merge Healthcare white paper emphasizes that “It’s time to adopt a new vision for an enterprise imaging strategy that focuses on providing electronic access to any medical image, anywhere, any time.” The white paper addresses the need for a “vendor neutral archive (VNA),” an alternative for communicating images via a CD, and a universal image viewer, driven by changing healthcare legislation and the trend toward greater accessibility to health information. Merge seems to understand the “bigger picture” and the need to address patient-centric enterprise imaging solutions.

What is striking to me about both publications is the emphasis on image accessibility. Understanding the workflow changes necessary to achieve accessibility all the way down to the patient via PHR’s is encouraging. The RSNA initiative seems to be taking the right perspective in emphasizing applications involving patients with an actual need, versus broader initiatives such as Google Health or Microsoft’s HealthVault.

As I have previously blogged, it will be important to assure that current ARRA/Meaningful Use initiatives for EMR’s are positioned to address imaging requirements that will eventually be part of ARRA/MU. Sure, individual service areas such as radiology could forge ahead and implement workflow and cost improvement solutions to image accessibility, but wouldn’t it make more sense to assure that such solutions meet enterprise requirements? Hopefully, initiatives such as these are the turning point in an understanding of the need for enterprise solutions.