Rural healthcare facilities see benefits through PACS

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Beyond the traditional benefits of implementing a PACS, the systems also can provide some safety and treatment speed benefits for patients at rural healthcare facilities. These were the conclusions of two conference presentations, one at the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) 2006 from March 27-30 in Chicago, and another at the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA) 2006 Electronic Imaging Conference from March 30-April 1 in Seattle. The presentations – one by Katherine Leslie, BS, RDMS, CRA, RT, (R) (CT) and Aaron Vizina, CNMT, RT, (N) at ACHE, and the other by Leslie at AHRA – looked at the DR Systems PACS architecture in use at urban-rural healthcare networks.
   
The ACHE presentation looked at Cascade Medical Imaging (CMI) in central Oregon which has seen its network boost patient safety in the rural areas by both speeding and enhancing diagnosis and treatment. Because of the PACS web-based design, the rural facilities now have around-the-clock access to reading radiologists. Previously, many of the facilities relied on traveling radiologists who only visited every few days. The web access, which makes images and reports available from physicians’ home or office computers as well as at the hospital, also speeds access to both current and archived studies, as well as patient records.

The PACS voice clip feature speeds report turnaround time because the radiologist’s initial impressions are available on-line within minutes after reading. Without voice clips, referring physicians would have to wait at least several hours for a full written report to be generated and distributed, according to the presentations.
   
At AHRA, Leslie focused on the financial aspects of the urban-rural PACS network, noting that CMI’s projected 2005 revenue from the network was $342,000 for 49,688 procedures. Those numbers far exceed the figures that were originally projected for 2009. Revenues include a variety of fees-for-service negotiated with network members and based on their needs – for example, per-report transcription fees and one-time, per-study archiving fees that cover unlimited access to the studies, according to the presentation.   

Cost savings from implementation included: $209,000 annual savings achieved by eliminating five FTEs (transcriptionists and medical records clerks); $100,000 annual savings achieved by moving the web servers, digital archive, library of old films, and equipment for converting film x-rays to digital to an industrial park, instead of leasing equivalent space at CHC; and $1.7 million revenue generated in 2005 alone by putting a new 16-slice PET/CT scanner in CHC space formerly used for film storage.