PACS safety benefits highlighted at NPSF
Two separate poster presentations at the recent annual meeting of the National Patient Safety Foundation, in Washington, D.C., detailed how patient-safety efforts at healthcare facilities can be helped through advanced PACS implementation. Other benefits include the ability to extend or improve radiology services in rural communities.

PACS vendor DR Systems highlighted these posters as examples of benefits of some of the feature functionality of its PACS.

The first poster, by Jeff Breedlove, RT, radiology systems administrator at Haywood Regional Medical Center (HRMC) in Clyde, N.C., evaluated PACS-related patient safety benefits.

According to Breedlove, PACS can offer more continual attention to patients because of the opportunity to tie a workstation into a hospital information system (HIS). Thus data entry work related to the exam can be performed by the technologist in the exam room with the patient. The interface between the PACS workstations and HIS also enables technologists to quickly confirm patient identification.

Another benefit is faster turnaround of reports resulting from automated features such as dictation, voice recognition, transcription, printing, faxing, and web report distribution.

Breedlove also noted that along with installation of the DR Systems PACS, the hospital upgraded its networking capabilities. Radiological imaging creates huge files that can move sluggishly through a typical hospital network. HRMC upgraded the cables and switches of its IT network so that imaging files could move through the network more quickly and easily.

Also, the combination of the PACS and network enables faster comparison of current to prior studies for emergency patients. A process that previously took six minutes, for example, could go down to 45 seconds.

The second poster demonstrated how a single DR Systems PACS is being used to provide full radiological services to 22 different organizations, including six rural hospitals that previously only had occasional access to a reading radiologist. The presentation was by Laurie A. Martin, MD and Katherine Leslie BS, RDMS, DRA, RT, (R) (CT), of Central Oregon Radiology Associates (CORA), a large radiology practice in Bend, Ore.

Martin and Leslie said that because of their limited resources and a general radiologist shortage, many rural hospitals must rely on traveling radiologists who visit every few days to interpret studies.

In 2000, CORA and Cascade Healthcare Community — the parent organization of St. Charles Medical Center-Bend and St. Charles Medical Center-Redmond — formed a joint venture called Cascade Medical Imaging (CMI), in part to acquire an advanced PACS. CMI also envisioned providing services to other healthcare facilities in its region, including rural hospitals.

To date, CMI has recruited 19 additional members to its network.

The project has proven a boon for patient safety for its rural hospitals largely by expediting diagnosis and treatment. The web-based system makes it possible for the hospitals to have imaging studies read by a CMI radiologist within minutes after making a request. A verbal report is then distributed back to the hospital after a few more minutes via a voice clip summary of the radiologist’s interpretation of the exam.

The voice clip suffices for most cases, especially in emergency situations. A full written report is often available to the hospitals shortly after.

The hospitals gained many of the usual benefits of digital images as compared to film interpretation, including the ability to manipulate digital images to enhance reading of areas of concern.