PACS for the Imaging Center

Digital image management at the imaging center is a unique world. Imaging centers bring different needs (and budgets) to the table. In the early days of PACS, many centers put PACS on hold. But today’s more mature PACS market offers a range of solutions designed to optimize the digital image management experience at the imaging center large and small. This month, Health Imaging & IT visits with a few sites to explore how to find just the right PACS.


Regional Medical Imaging  |  Flint, Mich.
A five-site practice with mini-PACS at each site
Regional Medical ImagingNeeds: The mini-PACS approach facilitated digital storage, but did not improve workflow or efficiency from the enterprise perspective, says CEO Randy Hicks, MD. The centers sought an enterprise solution that would increase efficiency by managing the entire imaging process from appointments to interpretation to billing.

Solution: AMICAS Vision Series RIS/PACS. Regional Medical Imaging wrapped the enterprise solution into a total makeover and added a new phone system, updated reading rooms and an internal microwave network.

Results: The mini-PACS model limited radiologists to their physical location as images had to be pushed across the system. “The AMICAS solution allowed us to change the workflow of our practice,” says Hicks. Radiologists can easily absorb overflow from other sites, and the central server always pulls the most recent images. Since deploying the new system, Regional Medical Imaging decreased staff radiologists from 12 to 10 without any impact on exam volume or patient care. In addition, Vision Reach results distribution system allows the practice to push multi-media reports to referring physicians and tap into sub-specialty experts, which enhances and accelerates clinical care. 

Advice: Do your homework and talk to other centers, says Hicks. Remember that the transition won’t be painless and can be an economic burden for up to a year as the center will run dual image management systems (analog and digital) for some time.

Radiology Associates  |  Macon, Ga.
A hospital-based CT group that provides interpretations for other imaging centers from a single location
Radiology AssociatesNeeds: In 2003, the practice realized demand for its reading services was increasing. The group needed to move from an analog, courier approach to a digital model. We needed a cost-effective solution that would grow with our client base, says Director of Information Systems Ken Meacham, PhD.

Solution: NovaRad’s NovaPACS; fiber-optic cable with 15 megabit/second transmission; a CISCO firewall that can scale up to 250 virtual private networks

Results: Since deploying NovaPACS in 2004, the group has increased from four clients to 16. “Radiologists no longer travel from center to center. They function as a team with a single home base, which increases efficiency and offers clinical benefits,” says Meacham. Web-based functionality allows the group to share images with referring physicians, which is a marketing advantage. Economic pluses of the new PACS include an obsolescence guarantee that provides free upgrades with the manual maintenance fee.
Advice: “Pre-planning is the most important aspect of the deployment. Try to identify the site’s unique needs and issues, so you know what to ask the vendors,” advises Meacham. Evaluate vendors’ support programs; remember imaging centers tend to rely more heavily on external IT expertise than hospitals.

Princeton Radiology Associates  |  Princeton, N.J.
A privately owned practice with four patient offices that began weighing the pros and cons of PACS in the early 1990s
Princeton Radiology AssociatesNeeds: Princeton Radiology postponed buying PACS until 2004 because the cost appeared to outweigh the benefits in the early days, says IT Director Alan Howard. By 2004, PACS became more cost-effective for imaging centers, enabling the group to project a satisfactory return on investment. The practice also aimed to remain competitive with referring physicians and patients.

Solution: Sage Software Intergy PACS

Results: Princeton Radiology calculates that it will recoup its investment in three to four years on film savings alone. Improved patient throughput, increased productivity and reduced support staff needs could trim that figure, says Howard. Other gains include simplified communication and collaboration among and between radiologists and clinicians. The practice also expects to change its workflow and transition to a paperless environment in the not too distant future.

Advice: “Make sure that the infrastructure is in place prior to PACS,” recommends Howard. Princeton Radiology upgraded from a T1 line to licensed wireless frequencies capable of 50-150 megabit/second transmission speed. In addition, data redundancy is critical. Intergy’s store and forward architecture creates three copies of images within 30 minutes of the exam.