The message at McCormick Place was loud and clear. PACS continues to evolve to meet radiology's most pressing challenges. The hot items this year included integrated advanced visualization, digital mammography solutions and enterprise systems that transcend radiology and incorporate cardiology and beyond. The small hospital/imaging center and replacement markets also earned their fair share of the spotlight. Vendors also touted value propositions, aiming to ease the sting of the Deficit Reducation Act (DRA) that take effect this month and declining reimbursement.
Going with the flow
The latest vendor offerings promise improved workflow and deeper integrations. Many new systems incorporate the next level of advanced visualization tools, enabling radiologists to employ 3D and remain at a PACS workstation, which represents a workflow plus. Embedded advanced visualization tools overcome the limits of dedicated 3D workstations and distributes advanced visualization to all workspots throughout the enterprise.
Advanced visualization applications weren't the only new offerings. DMIST results are out, and the first CR mammo system is on the market. Digital mammo has turned the corner, and sales are skyrocketing.
Both advanced visualization and digital mammography bring similar challenges. That is, radiologists need a cohesive work environment — not separate workstations, says Brad Levin, vice president of marketing for Dynamic Imaging. Several vendors aim to simplify the intricate challenges of storing and recalling digital mammography images with new PACS workstations approved for interpretation of current and prior studies and incorporate embedded CAD and multi-modality imaging viewing.
Enterprise top of mind
Another buzzword heard loud and clear around McCormick Place was enterprise imaging. Sites are looking for a single solution for cardiology and radiology archiving and distribution, says Ed Heere, president of CoActiv Medical Business Solutions "The lines between imaging departments — radiology and cardiology — are blurring," concurs ScImage National Sales Director Richard Taylor. For example, both cardiologists and radiologists need to view static and dynamic images, a trend that will strengthen as cardiac CT and MR grow.
Other vendors, including McKesson and PACSGear, pointed to the bigger picture — image-enabled care — and the need to integrate all types of images including non-DICOM ENT, bronchoscopy and pathology images. An enterprise solution that wraps in DICOM and non-DICOM images could be ideally positioned to meet the storage, IT and financial needs of the enterprise.
While vendors touted the 'enterprise,' they also honed in on the little guy. PACS has penetrated the majority of large and mid-sized hospitals, but many smaller sites, imaging centers and specialty practices are eyeing digital image management solutions. "PACS/RIS is migrating to the masses — imaging centers and community hospitals," notes Tim Law, president of NovaRad. These sites do have unique needs, which may include older, non-DICOM modalities, a barebones or non-existent IT staff and an ultra-tight budget.
Scaling systems for smaller practices
SourceMed and Dynamic Imaging point to the validity of web-based solutions that can grow with the smaller site as its clinical and technical needs evolve. "A web-based solution can scale from one to two to multiple distributed facilities," Dynamic Imaging's Levin points out.
The Deficit Reduction Act and declining reimbursement could be a positive for some PACS vendors, says Tim Kulbago, chief strategy officer, for Merge Healthcare. That's because hospitals and imaging centers will increase their reliance on technology to counteract dropping reimbursement. Imaging centers may grow their business by investing in new tools designed to improve relationships with referring physicians, predicts Aine Cryts, AMICAS marketing communications manager.
The show floor was peppered with new advanced workflow solutions, designed to minimize disruptions to radiologists, streamline communication and mine data to facilitate optimization of staff and modality resources. The other half of this trend is consulting services. According to Kulbago, more sites are requesting practice analysis services to help grow their businesses.
Another effect of the belt-tightening? Some sites are evaluating less expensive PACS. Sites in the replacement market should analyze their service contract