Choosing the Right PACS

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What factors influence what technology we buy?

Most of us place ease of use (61 percent) at the top of the list, followed closely by customer service (58 percent), and no hassle installation (57 percent), according to a recent Harris Interactive poll on technology buying. Getting a thorough understanding of how it works through training (53 percent) comes next on the list.

Of course purchasing a PACS for radiology and the enterprise is a whole heck of a lot more complicated than buying a new cellphone, for example, but ease of use is key to how quickly and how well clinicians and administrators make use of a new PACS. Radiologists have just a few minutes to dedicate to each study—and referring physicians need to be efficient in reviewing reports, so PACS needs to be easy to use as well as being acquisition device-and vendor-neutral. It also needs to tailor image quality and functionality to the needs of the user—within the schema of an enterprise solution. Among the myriad other considerations are the number and type of facilities to be connected, the hundreds or perhaps thousands of users across the healthcare enterprise who need access, the type and size of images to be managed and archived, and what departments, acquisition devices and IT systems need to be connected to PACS. Also on the list are data storage requirements, financing options and upgrade paths. There are frankly far too many considerations to even list.

PACS is the technology of choice for a lot of healthcare facilities each year—with industry analysts Frost & Sullivan projecting the North American PACS market will grow about 11 percent a year through 2008 from a 2001 based of about $500 million. European PACS and PACS Professional and Technical Services Market earned revenues of $516.1 million in 2005 and is estimated to reach $834.3 million by 2012.

Much of that growth will occur in small and medium-size hospitals—about 20 to 30 percent have already installed PACS—that are ready to take advantage of a more mature market with more options. Imaging center penetration rates are about 15 percent, so that market is ripe as well—while penetration estimates for large, teaching hospitals are between 85 and 95 percent with replacement systems now prevalent. Smaller facilities have much to gain from installing PACS but their limited resources require thorough evaluation and careful investment. For some insight into this market, see “ PACS Customized & Configured for the Imaging Center and Small Hospital.

Ease of use of PACS includes accessing images on handheld computers for some, too. Like more physicians are making use of tablet PCs and PDAs radiologists are praising immediate, timely access to images—and ultimately delivering better care—in “ Images...Coming Soon to a Handheld Near You.” It’s a growing niche for sure.

So what else matters when it comes to “Choosing the Right PACS”? PACS is essential with the large growth rates of multidetector CT, and workhorses digital radiography and computed radiography. And don’t forget MRI and digital mammography. CR is still growing about 15 to 30 percent per year, DR is increasing about 5 percent per year, and multidetector CT, especially 64-slice, will surge with about 110 percent growth this year alone.

The intangibles of relationships with PACS vendors and prior successes and failures are factors in the decision too—especially when you’re choosing a replacement PACS—which is what “ Changing PACS Vendors: Getting It Right the Second Time Around for Radiology and the Enterprise” is all about. And ultimately, decisions come down to how much you have to spend.

No “one size fits all” with PACS. Some facilities choose to run while others choose to start out walking with the potential of adding track shoes later. Whichever your speed, make sure your PACS is comfortable and your path is clear.