AHRA: VNAs offer shelter from oncoming image management storm

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ORLANDO, Fla.—A deluge of imaging data is coming, and for providers that will mean a new approach to health IT and data storage. At the center of this approach is a model where providers take back control of storage through the implementation of a vendor neutral archive (VNA), according to a presentation Aug. 13 at the 40th annual meeting of AHRA: the Association for Medical Imaging Management.

Currently, applications own data, said Chris Tomlinson, MBA, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When a provider chooses a PACS, they are locked in to that vendor, which can make it difficult to switch vendors, add applications or share data between applications. If the provider wants to upgrade or switch vendors, it also requires a costly data migration process.

This model will be strained by the ever increasing amounts of imaging data that providers need to store. Tomlinson pointed to the increasing file sizes of images, as well as the fact that for a true enterprise imaging strategy, imaging data from orthopedics, surgery, urology, neurology and a number of other “’ologies” will need to be integrated and follow radiology’s lead.

“Folks in those areas, they don’t know nearly as much as folks in radiology. Radiology has been doing this for a while,” said Tomlinson.

The reality is DICOM will not become the standard for all ‘ologies, according to Tomlinson. To manage all of these data, an enterprise imaging strategy must have an institutionally owned archive with departments retaining ownership of the viewer. Tomlinson outlined a three-layer model, with an application layer, consisting of the various modalities, workstations, PACS and other systems; an image management layer, or VNA; and a storage layer, providing vendor agnostic storage. The VNA serves as a router that manages the flow of data.

“No longer is your PACS the center of the universe,” said Tomlinson. “It’s no longer the storage. It’s no longer the image management. PACS is what it should be; it’s a viewer and it’s a workflow tool. That’s it.”

Tomlinson explained that ‘vendor neutral’ is a misnomer, and that the more apt description is ‘PACS neutral.’ Along these lines, he advised providers be on the lookout for marketing spin from PACS vendors that claim they’re offering a VNA.

A model utilizing a true VNA would provide a storage platform that works with any application or hardware vendor. It would also result in significant cost savings, said Tomlinson, with bottom line savings for providers following this strategy estimated to approach $3 million over five years.