Enterprise Imaging Means Never Having to Say You’re Siloed

Memo to radiology: It’s time to quicken the pace at which you’re metamorphosing out of your role as chief keeper of all things imaging. The era of enterprise imaging is upon U.S. healthcare, and your speedy adaptation will benefit you as well as your patients and referrers.

Or, as it was put to this reporter much more pragmatically during a recent interview with enterprise-imaging thought leader Alexander Towbin, MD:

“Enterprise imaging lets me see everything that’s going on with a patient. When I can see the rash, [for example], it’s going to make me think of findings in the lung a little bit differently. It may make me, a radiologist, think about lupus when I otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Towbin, director of radiology informatics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, doesn’t stand alone as an enthusiastic embracer of enterprise imaging. A recent survey of 100 healthcare CIOs showed that more than half of provider facilities, 58 percent, have implemented an enterprise-imaging strategy.

This means most provider organizations are looking to expand clinicians’ access to imaging not only from radiology and cardiology but also from dermatology, endoscopy, pathology, the emergency department, ophthalmology and every other medical specialty that may produce image-based patient data.

And here’s the kicker. The survey, which was commissioned by the image-exchange vendor lifeIMAGE, further revealed that ownership of imaging—long considered radiology’s bailiwick—is now widely considered a core area of activity for IT departments.

In fact, a whopping 86 percent of the CIO respondents indicated that their department oversees enterprise imaging either exclusively or as a shared initiative with radiology.

Hence the need for faster adaptation by radiologists.

Amid all the excitement, a measure of unease rightly swirls around how hospitals will manage scenarios in which practically every clinician has a digital camera at the ready. Smartphones are everywhere in clinical settings, after all, and there’s no going back on that.

What not to do is enforce a “no clinical smartphone photos” policy. As Towbin pointed out to me, such a stance would only drive the picture-taking underground, where open and honest discussions about it can’t take place among leadership and other key stakeholders.

“We may need to find ways to enable people to use their phone camera safely in a way that ensures patient privacy and doesn’t place diagnostic images at risk,” he suggests. “There are solutions for that.”

There always are. Healthcare is nothing if not a hotbed of innovation. May the enterprise-imaging evolution proceed apace.