Northwest ImageShare is breaking new ground—as well as answering the call for greater availability of health information via health exchanges from National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Farzad Mostashari, MD, ScM. This successful and growing exchange focuses exclusively on imaging studies. What’s different is Northwest ImageShare includes a hospital and three physician groups that have put competition aside to share images on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington. It’s working—quite well—and truly enabling better patient care. Is it something you should try, too?
Northwest ImageShare is based on a cloud-based regional PACS run in collaboration by Harrison Medical Center, Advanced Medical Imaging, The Doctors Clinic and Olympic Radiology. Altogether these physician and imaging groups have 17 facilities across the Kitsap Peninsula, an hour’s ferry ride west of Seattle.
The initiative went live in July 2012 but dates back to 2011 when Harrison Medical Center COO, then CIO, Adar Palis put out feelers at the urging of Harrison ER physicians to get other providers nearby to begin sharing patient images. The objective was to enable better physician access to images across their region to enable more immediate and better care for patients. After a couple of months of discussions, the groups agreed to form Northwest ImageShare.
So just what does it take to breed consensus for such a collaborative? “You need willing participants who put aside competition for the sake of patient treatment,” says Harrison CIO Ty Walker.
Michele Sauer, administrator of Olympic Radiology, echoes the same message: “It requires the right players with the right perspective, attitude and vision. Harrison was willing to come to the table and identify what we can do together that doesn’t challenge our business model but really benefits the community and, ultimately, the patients, their care and having clinicians have all the tools they need to make quick diagnostic and treatment decisions.”
The team at The Doctors Clinic felt the same way. “When it came to patient care and really looking at what Northwest ImageShare could bring to the medical community, we had to do it,” recalls Clinical and Ancillary Services Director Brennan Dobbins.
“The benefits outweigh the challenges because it’s patient care,” adds Tina Moore, administrator of Advanced Medical Imaging. “Nothing really is going to trump that.”
Configuring image share
The first key to creating the image share was standardizing all the facilities on the same Sectra web-based PACS and image sharing algorithms. Harrison’s staff took care of getting the facilities and physicians connected as well as maintaining system support 24/7. The PACS allows centralization of administration, maintenance and storage of images while maintaining security integrity. The partner organizations established guidelines to securely separate their patient information per HIPAA requirements and individual facility guidelines and protect their referral bases. “For example, each facility’s network is attached to the Northwest ImageShare, but they are not allowed to penetrate beyond their service or services that they need,” explains Ben Holmes, PACS system engineer at Harrison. “So at no time could one entity come in through Northwest ImageShare and into another entity or back out. We protect that.”
Sectra’s cross-platform worklist securely partitions each organization’s information in the shared archive which complies with HIPAA guidelines. The centralized archive greatly reduces the IT cost infrastructure for the providers and improves the continuum of care in the region. The redundant and secure data center resides at the local 911 call center. “It’s all virtualized,” Holmes explains. “Our SAN system is fully protected there and we have our own network setup and firewalls in place along with our tape archives for a completely maintained system.”
Harrison hosts the system and administers in the image share by collecting fees from the other providers. The fees are about the same as most the groups paid for PACS separately; The Doctors Clinic, however, was able to cut more than 60 percent from what they paid previously for PACS. The more exams that are part of the image share, the less each exam costs the providers—thus creating further economic incentives for participation and growth. “The economies of scale are very important because we are looking at shrinking reimbursement,” Palis notes. “By