Making 3D mammography a reality for all facilities

3D mammography is growing more and more popular throughout the United States, and it’s easy to see why. Countless studies have shown it can reduce false positives and increases cancer detection in women with dense breasts, it creates a better overall patient experience, and insurance companies are finally beginning to cover costs associated with 3D mammograms.

Increased adoption, however, has put healthcare providers face to face with a whole new set of challenges—and implementing the right software tool can make all the difference in the world. Managing the sheer size of the images, along with immediate access to priors, poses a significant problem for providers. Being able to those things from any location can be critical. Additionally, facilities—particularly those in rural areas—need a viewer that integrates with any DICOM-compliant PACS, allowing radiologists to read images without the use of pricey, state-of-the-art workstations. Having a zero-footprint viewer that provides instant access to images from any modality, including 3D mammography, is vital to making a fast, accurate diagnosis.

Medical coverage shouldn’t be limited by an internet connection

One of the primary challenges providers encounter with 3D mammography is the large size of the images; each image is up to 10 times larger than a traditional 2D mammogram, consisting of approximately 50-100 slices per view. This makes reading even one 3D study offsite a considerable challenge, causing inconveniences that rob facilities in more remote areas of the opportunity to adopt this powerful modality.

“We see radiology groups that send members to some facilities just to read mammograms,” says Steve Deaton, Konica Minolta’s vice president of healthcare IT. “In an environment where efficiency is constantly strived for, that trend poses a significant challenge. That’s the current trend, and that’s what we’re working to eliminate with the Exa Mammo viewer. Now, radiologists can stay where they are, log in to our server and read studies in a timely manner.”

The Exa platform from Konica Minolta Healthcare Americas has a long history of success utilizing server side rendering technology. With the solution’s servers doing the work, individual workstations in even the most remote areas can easily, quickly, and securely gain access to these massive files.

Exa-Mammography Viewer

This becomes even more important when one considers that radiologists aren’t just interpreting new images—they are reviewing entire patient histories as well.

“Mammograms are not as much about what you see than what you see changing year after year, so it’s absolutely critical that you have priors readily available,” Deaton says. “If you’re looking at a 3D mammogram today and that patient has a prior from last year that was 3D, each of those studies is about 1.5GB.

Then the patient could have prior 2D mammograms from the last three years, so that’s another 1GB of data. So now you’re looking at needing a $10,000 computer to open 4GB of data anywhere you want to open up mammograms.”

Fortunately, with advanced technologies, those days are over. “We’ve targeted those IT bottlenecks and eliminated them,” Deaton says. “It’s crazy to think that in modern healthcare, medical coverage could be dictated by a facility’s internet connection or if you can find radiologists to come to your clinic and read studies.”

That loud noise you may have just heard was the cheers of IT departments across the country.  Radiology no longer has to be treated like that troublesome specialty; just give radiologists the same computer setup as the rest of the hospital—as long as it has a nice monitor, of course—and leave that strenuous work to the servers.

Simplified management, improved access

One big advantage that providers should look for is the ability to keep everything centrally managed. While other vendors may deploy three different mammography workstations to three different sites within a healthcare system, Deaton explains that they deploy a single license to the Exa Mammo server. “All the user profiles can live on that server,” Deaton says. “So we can make a change and roll it out immediately to all of the radiology group’s profiles. It simplifies administration tremendously and sets us apart from the pack.”

Integration with all major mammography tracking companies is something else that health systems should view as a priority. For instance, this same software being used in a women’s imaging center should automatically alert necessary parties when a follow-up exam needs to be scheduled versus relying on someone to manually review all the records. It assures the timeliness of the follow-up, the accuracy to make sure it doesn’t get missed, and saves the valuable manpower by automating the process.

“That level of closed-loop integration doesn’t exist in the marketplace other than what we’re doing,” Deaton says. “With other systems, a radiologist has someone go through exams at the end of the day and schedule follow-up exams for patients. So at that point, it’s up to if the employee responsible had a good day or a bad day. It’s too subjective.”

Implementing smart imaging solutions can also help improve the relationship between radiologists and referring physicians—a relationship that has never been more important than it is in today’s quality-focused healthcare environment.

Younger, tech-savvy doctors entering the market want more access to imaging so they can view it themselves, Deaton says. And even doctors who have been practicing for a long time are wanting to see more for themselves as the technology evolves. By using Exa Mammo servers, physicians who want that access can now have it, with no expensive workstation required.

Providing access to surgeons and other specialists can have a significant impact across the board, making outcomes better by allowing more and more individuals to look directly at the images with no workspace limitations.

“When a breast surgeon decides they want to look at an exam before beginning a procedure, that surgeon isn’t going to have a mammography workstation,” Deaton says. “So how do we give them that access? Server side rendering makes it happen. They can open up the image from wherever they are. They aren’t doing a diagnostic read, but it’s a helpful reference.”

Making the transition

Konica Minolta provides two options when implementing this viewer: it can be purchased on its own as a standalone viewer or as a part of the company’s enterprise-wide Exa PACS. This makes the viewer convenient for any radiology group, whether it’s a startup or an established department inside a large hospital.

“At a brand new women’s imaging center, we can provide the software that images will be viewed on and everything is all ready to go,” Deaton says. “What’s more common is the opposite, where we go to a hospital that already has a PACS they’ve invested millions of dollars in. We can deploy our viewer and have it integrate into their existing database. We can work in tandem at a high level with these other PACS.”

Deaton adds that the company specializes in helping facilities transition from legacy systems to the company’s latest solutions that support the enterprise imaging model. When management is resisting a necessary change, for instance, or if radiologists are nervous about learning a whole new system from scratch, Konica Minolta can step in and give users the look and feel of their prior system while offering “new, faster, smoother functionality.”