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Future State of Image Access

Future State of Image Access

By Jef Williams

By Jef WilliamsManaging the users of your imaging platform is an ongoing challenge as the use and access of patient medical images continues to expand across the enterprise. In early iterations of PACS, the original digital imaging management platform, user groups were defined. The largest share of users was within radiology including both radiologists and technologists with a small subset of peripheral departments accessing PACS for the purpose of treatment planning and patient care. As imaging has expanded within the enterprise so has the complexity associated with defining user groups. Not only has user group management become more complex but so has the entire strategy of managing the digital imaging objects created from many different modalities and devices. Going forward, the industry will have to think differently about how it defines a user profile.

Patient Access

While the number of user profiles within our imaging platforms will continue to be driven primarily by provider groups within our organizations, there is now a push to provide patients access to their images from their patient portal. As the industry continues to move toward improved patient experience and consumer centric models for sharing patient medical information, it will require an equal investment in the necessary technology to make it functional and usable for patients.

For some organizations, the goal is simply to image-enable the patient portal so that patients can view and, in some cases, download their medical imaging. This is a great first step in giving patients access to all their medical information in a way that is convenient and an improvement on using hard media.

Machine Access

Perhaps one of the fastest growing user profiles with imaging solutions is not human at all, but rather the artificial intelligence (AI) platforms and machines that are interpreting images and providing results back to the radiologist. The challenge with developing these user profiles is in designing the technology to ensure that the use cases driving these peripheral image analysis tools enhances and does not detract from the workflow. Simply adding a module to your PACS may directly or indirectly negatively impact some of the critical key performance indicators (KPIs) identified within the department, especially turnaround times. But at that same time, deployment of AI may potentially improve quality and outcomes.

As organizations expand their AI footprint an eye toward KPIs is going to be an important component of the program’s success. Having both clinical and technical teams work collaboratively in designing, deploying and supporting a complex set of machine users should be embedded into the organization’s strategy and roadmap related to machine users.

Research Access

Data has become an important commodity in health care just as it has in every other field. Organizations are leveraging their data to achieve outcomes related to population health and other strategic objectives. The researchers using large data sets in research projects have become another important user in imaging management platforms. Because of the size and scope of many research projects the manipulation of data for the purpose of research can impact system performance which is why many organizations choose to use a separate research platform for their projects. In order to populate these research platforms, organizations require resources and tools to manipulate data including de-identification which should be an important consideration in defining new user profiles.

All these things are important to consider as you build your strategy and roadmap for the future of how imaging will be managed and accessed. Where user access to imaging in large organizations can be counted in the thousands per day, it is conceivable that access over the next decade will increase tenfold when considering the number of net new user profiles accessing image information. This will have an impact on how systems are designed and deployed and should be a discussion topic with your key imaging vendors.

Jef Williams, MBA, PMP, CIIP, is a managing partner at Paragon Consulting Partners.

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