Enterprise Imaging 101: What You Need to Know

In today’s modern medical era, the demands placed on a care provider are complex. Care providers are responsible for providing personable, hands-on, patient care while also managing highly technical processes like updating electronic health records (EHR), operating advanced technology, and communicating via multiple devices.

Much of this behind-the-scenes work is management of patient data including health records, radiology scans, imaging results, and other multimedia. With the advent of the digital age and the data-driven revolution, it is important for healthcare organizations to have a strong strategy for managing all this information.

Enterprise imaging is the area of healthcare that aims to bring together important patient data, images, and multimedia. In this guide, we’ll fully explore the facets of enterprise imaging and how they contribute to consistent, quality, patient care.

What is Enterprise Imaging?

Enterprise imaging (EI) refers to a set of strategies, initiatives, and workflows implemented across a healthcare enterprise to consistently and optimally capture, index, manage, store, distribute, view, exchange, and analyze all clinical imaging and multimedia content to enhance the electronic health record. (Source)
The EI definition is lengthy, and that is because enterprise imaging as a concept encompasses several themes and sub-topics. Below we will define three terms important to enterprise imaging: PACS, DICOM and EHR.

・PACS Defined and a Brief History

When discussing enterprise imaging, we must first define PACS, a critical piece of the healthcare technology evolution. PACS are picture archiving and communication systems that allow healthcare providers to store and send electronic images and clinical reports. Many in the medical community credit Heinz Lemke, a professor at the Technical University of Berlin, as the inventor of the PACS system in 1979.

Throughout the next few decades, PACS would be first popularized in radiology as a way to send images digitally, eliminating the need to manually transport X-ray images which require special protective film. Early PACS systems were incredibly expensive, and the technology was cumbersome to implement and integrate with other systems.

However, eventually usage of PACS proliferated, coinciding with the digital revolution of the 1990s. Soon, it was clear that digital imaging in patient care was here to stay, and the healthcare industry saw a need for a universal standard for medical technology systems. DICOM answers that need.

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Enterprise Imaging: The whole is greater than the sum of the PACS.

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DICOM is a universal set of standards that enables technology systems to interface. With the creation of DICOM, medical systems from different vendors and manufacturers can communicate with one main PACS.

The introduction of DICOM is a milestone in the medical technology timeline. In fact, Reuben Mezrich, professor of radiology and chairman of the radiology department at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore said this of DICOM, “If you could give a Nobel Prize for DICOM, that would be a good thing.”

・The EHR: Gateway to Patient Care

The evolution of PACS and DICOM were leading the way to the creation of the electronic health record, which is the main source of truth of a patient, containing vital information from blood type, to allergies, to recent radiology scans.

Prior to medical technology advancements, it was difficult to unify patient information from disparate clinics, doctors, and systems. With the EHR, patient information is updated regularly across systems, which has the potential to be life-saving as information from one provider often informs treatment administered by another provider.

What Is an Enterprise Imaging Strategy?

An enterprise imaging strategy is the framework for managing all medical imaging content across its departments and stakeholders. It outlines how an organization saves, stores, views, and securely manages this content.

Important elements of a well-defined enterprise imaging strategy include:
  • Governance: Establishing a policy and plan for enterprise imaging across the entire organization
  • Stakeholder buy-in: Believing in enterprise imaging as a path to better patient care by the people using the solution
  • Data requirements: Understanding your departments’ and stakeholders’ data and workflow needs
  • Future planning: Examining your imaging and data needs today, and anticipating what you may need in the future
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Gartner’s report on imaging content management for more information about enterprise imaging strategies and challenges

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A strong EI strategy contributes to robust and reliable electronic health records. By using enterprise imaging, facilities have a system that any health care professional can view, use, and analyze. Another important factor is that EI solutions provide enhanced security over other data storage methods to help protect patient information. Below we further define important aspects of EI, why it is useful, and its benefits.

Enterprise Imaging Helps Manage Big Healthcare Data

From electronic health records to smart watches, the data available to healthcare professionals is abundant. In fact, it’s overwhelming. People create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, much of which is healthcare data. Specifically, image-based patient data is foundational to a patient’s health record (source).

These images are significantly larger than text-based information like lab results. So, healthcare service lines that operate primarily in images, have a need for abundant storage solutions.

Enterprises must have an EI system capable of handling crucial patient images. In response to the explosion of big data, enterprise imaging solutions promote an intelligent system that can grow flexibly into the future.

EI Promotes Efficiency

One of the major benefits of enterprise imaging is better workflow for healthcare organizations. When EI is implemented and optimized, entire workflows can be automated, giving providers time back in their day to focus on face-to-face care.

For example, an EI solution can share pertinent case images and information with a whole care team, or members of different teams. In contrast to processes of the past, it’s no longer necessary to import images from a DVD or to print results and records.

Enterprise imaging makes the often cumbersome task of transferring images seamless. Instead of sifting through many clinical systems, imaging data is accessible, which allows medical professionals to make informed clinical decisions about their patients.

With more recent advances, adding the capabilities of AI magnifies the efficiencies provided by EI. In fact, researchers are now leveraging AI to help proactively diagnose patients using predictive data stored with EI.

EI Fosters Collaboration

As mentioned, radiology was the first medical department to spearhead the PACS revolution. But today, almost every other department has also advanced with the help of PACS and EI including cardiology, women’s health, and more.

Given the inter-departmental nature of modern healthcare, it’s absolutely crucial for departments to have easy pathways for communication and collaboration. EI fosters this collaboration with seamless sharing of information.

For patients, this ease of collaboration between departments leads to better patient experience, as patients aren’t asked to transfer or retrieve their own imaging results.

How Enterprise Imaging Can Reduce Costs and Increase Gains

Using departmental PACS imaging systems instead of a single enterprise imaging strategy leads facilities to pay maintenance and support fees for each system. Enterprise imaging merges this to one program that needs reduced maintenance. Eliminating duplicate tests helps more than the patient. It also minimizes cost for medical facilities.

Maintaining separate PACS also leads to potential problems during outages or crisis situations. Since diagnostic imaging is critical, backup systems are often in place, but each fallback system comes at a cost for the facility.

Having enterprise imaging in place also helps to bring in revenue to an enterprise. There are several programs that incentivize the implementation of these strategies. The Promoting Interoperability program offers options to facilities that promote interoperability initiative, which could include enterprise imaging.

EI Helps Connect Doctors and Patients

As healthcare providers’ workloads have increased with every decade, it has left less time for important doctor-to-patient communication. This is a major gap that EI aims to solve. Enterprise imaging solutions make it easier to keep patients connected to their doctors and overall care plan. Using technology like patient portals connected to an imaging system, patients can get instant access to their information, which can be a huge relief when waiting for sensitive results.

Not only can patients receive timely information from their healthcare providers, but they can also communicate to doctors and nurses through the same channel. With this new ability to communicate, one-on-one attention is restored to the patient-doctor relationship.

Plus, providers get a better view of their patient, with new portals of communication and data. Of course, now that we are a mobile-first society, patients can even access their records on-the-go with EI systems that enable mobile connectivity.

Enterprise Imaging: Empowering Patients and Providers

While other professions work with singular subjects, healthcare revolves around the most intricate system in the world – people. It’s no wonder healthcare technology has had such a significant evolution in the past decades. What is clear is that because of the multifaceted nature of patient care, crucial patient data must be shared between doctors, departments, facilities, and enterprises.

With an enterprise imaging strategy and approach, organizations will set their professionals and patients up for success and optimal health. When empowered by EI, it’s easy for medical professionals to work together toward the common goal of quality patient care.