SIIM: Defining your VNA goals

LONG BEACH, CALIF.— When considering investment in a vendor neutral archive (VNA), providers should have a clear understanding of what exactly they are trying to achieve, advised a panel of industry experts at the annual meeting of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM).

Led by moderator Steven C. Horii, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, the panel tackled questions dealing with ensuring different systems can work together and considerations about involving an entire enterprise.

But before working out the specifics of integration, it’s important to have a clear goal. “You really need to be very certain what the problems are you’re trying to solve when you pick a VNA,” said Kevin Collins, vice president of research and development for Sectra North America. He added that it is not a good idea to get a VNA simply to avoid data migrations, as acquiring a VNA will likely force a migration from existing PACS and providers may end up looking for a new solution in the future anyway.

The problems that VNAs do a great job of solving, however, are consolidating different department storage and archiving strategies, making sure they are all secure, said Collins. Because of this, it’s important to ask vendors if they will support object formats produced by cardiology, pathology and all the other departments in an enterprise that will need to be included.

The enterprise is where the complexity lies, said Lenny J. Reznik, MBA, director of enterprise imaging and information solutions for Agfa HealthCare. Whether it’s wound care photos, portable ultrasound, DICOM or non-DICOM, it’s important to understand how the data is taken in and retrieved from the system. “Question is, are you really buying an IT solution or are you buying a clinical solution? I’d really tell you to ask yourself that question before you begin this journey,” said Reznik.

When considering the whole enterprise, the archive must be seen as simply a piece of the puzzle with a lot of moving parts. “Simply having an archive without any intelligent logic, without any kind of information lifecycle management and audit capabilities and security won’t do much for you,” said Collins.

Reznik agreed that it’s important to think about how systems work together. For example, if a VNA from one vendor and a viewer from another don’t actually keep in sync, it can provide quite a headache.

“VNA is only as neutral as the PACS lets it be,” added Fred M. Behlen, PhD, president of Laitek. “If the PACS is holding back any information or storing information in proprietary or private tags, you may not see that interoperability in another viewer, especially in areas like annotation.”

The discussion was billed as a comparison of options between a VNA and an archive neutral vendor. Horii explained these are just different perspectives on the same issue. A VNA should be able to connect to different PACS without having to do a lot of migration, and offer the ability to switch vendors relatively painlessly again in the future. Archive neutral vendors, on the other hand, promise to be able to communicate with any storage, archive or enterprise image management system.

Whichever strategy a provider chooses, the panelists agreed on one important piece of advice. “Never give up ownership of your data,” said Behlen. If a provider is unable to take their data and easily move it to a new system, any future changes to an image management strategy will be very difficult.