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Rad Idea: It’s Time to Move Patient Images Online

There are apps for banking and depositing checks. Most of us have e-billing for virtually every utility. Even health care portals give you easy access to medical records and appointment scheduling. Online prescription refill requests have become the norm. Practically all aspects of our personal and professional lives can be handled online, yet we are still using CDs to share vital health records and images.

Four out of five health care organizations still use CDs to transfer medical imaging. Why haven’t more health care providers moved their imaging online? For one thing, old habits die hard. There is also fear of the unknown and concerns about compatibility and security. These concerns ignore the vast benefits that could be achieved if CDs were retired, and the medical profession fully adopted electronic image transfer solutions. It’s time to #ditchthedisk. 

CD Challenges

If a patient has an X-ray, MRI or CT scan, they’ll most likely be handed a CD of their images to take to follow-up appointments or referrals, even though the vast majority of providers (90%) want to eliminate this practice because they think it hinders patient care. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that so many providers want to eliminate the use of CDs for image transfer, especially as it relates to cost, time and resources. On average, practices spend about 85 days per year on CD-related tasks – from uploading and burning CDs to matching patient data. About three-quarters of health care administrators noted that eliminating CD-related tasks would improve job satisfaction. In addition, thousands of dollars could be saved annually if CDs were eliminated and cloud-based imaging solutions were adopted. In fact, hospitals spend as much as $15 per CD, according to health care executives, and courier costs can exceed $100,000 per year for some health systems.

The use of this arcane physical method of data sharing also comes at a cost to patients. Providers believe that reliance on CDs is detrimental to patient care. This is particularly true for trauma patients, half of whom have at least one CT before they’re transferred. There can be up to a 25-minute delay in treating trauma patients if doctors at a receiving facility have to rely on uploading images from a CD upon patient arrival rather than assessing the images online in advance. This delay was such a concern that in 2014, the American College of Surgeons made it a requirement that Level I and II trauma centers needed to have the ability to view radiographic imaging from referring hospitals.

Breaking Free from the Medical Image Sharing Status Quo

Despite the desire from health care professionals and patients alike to change the status quo of CD usage for medical image sharing, there are still several factors holding back widespread adoption of online images:

Providers have limited time to learn a new system for image review: Today’s health care providers are overwhelmed with busy practices and dealing with the fallout from COVID-19 and deferred care. They have neither the time nor the resources to learn a new technology to review images. Fortunately, cloud-based medical imaging sharing solutions are designed to be easy to use and, once adopted, can shave hours of administrative time out of their day, enabling better overall patient care and outcomes. 

Patients want control: More than 80% of patients say they want access to their imaging along with test results. However, one in three patients reported that they cannot easily access their medical records – and if they can, there’s often a wait of up to three days to do so. Further, despite requesting this access to their imaging, many patients – particularly older ones – are accustomed to having and holding the physical CD and transporting it from the radiology department to their provider or specialist to ensure it’s “secure.” In reality, this is often not the case. CDs are easily forgotten, lost or damaged. As patients themselves continue to become more digitally savvy, there will be even higher expectations for having real-time accessibility of medical imaging.

Many systems lack interoperability, and transmitting information between them isn’t secure: Providers hesitant to embrace cloud-based medical imaging sharing often argue that other solutions – such as diagnostic systems  – won’t accept electronic transfers. Or, there may be issues with using different formats, data structures or languages that could prevent integration and open up security gaps. It’s important to select a medical imaging provider that offers a secure, vendor-neutral solution designed to meet the needs of the entire organization. The benefits of adopting modern technologies that are easily integrated, including cloud-based imaging systems, are well documented. They reduce administrative burden; make providers more efficient, which eases burnout; reduce error and prevent redundant imaging exams. 

There is no longer time for excuses. Online services have proven their value in all aspects of our lives – from managing our finances to managing our personal health. Businesses have been transformed by the adoption of cloud-based services, reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and improving customer satisfaction. It’s time for medical imaging professionals to #ditchthedisk,  rise up and ensure that both providers and patients benefit from the secure, timely electronic transfer of information.•

– Morris Panner is the president of Intelerad Medical Systems. He served as CEO of Ambra Health from 2011 until its acquisition by Intelerad in 2021. He is an active voice in the cloud and enterprise software arena, focused on the services and health care verticals.

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