As most in the healthcare industry are well aware, one of the strongest healthcare trends is improved collaboration and accountable care, with reimbursement models based on patient outcomes versus the traditional fee-for-service model. One of the pillars of successful collaboration and accountable care is patient information - including medical images - that is readily accessible and sharable across organizations, no matter their affiliation. The shift to accountable care organizations (ACOs), driven by multiple factors including cost, a rise in chronic disease and aging patient populations, is putting the pressure on organizations to find feasible, cost-efficient and scalable technology solutions to securely store, access and share patient data, including medical images - the volume of which is exploding year over year.
The current cloud-less reality
When it comes to medical imaging, today the patient typically is responsible for shuttling images on a CD between providers whose PACS don't communicate. More than an annoyance, this system has serious negative implications for all stakeholders:
- Care Providers: Delayed patient treatment can potentially result in lower-quality care by obstructing real-time consultation and collaboration.
- Patients: If the patient forgets to deliver the images, he or she may be subjected to unnecessary radiation for additional tests. Today, about one in five radiology tests is a duplicate. This situation is going to become even more of an issue as baby boomers age and require more imaging services, and as healthcare reform provides insurance coverage to those previously uninsured.
- Payers: More tests mean higher costs, plain and simple.
The cloud provides the foundation for collaboration
To achieve the goals of providing patient-centric care across care settings with better outcomes and higher patient satisfaction while reducing costs, ACOs and other providers need to significantly invest in information technology including cloud-based solutions. Technology can improve care coordination and reduce duplicative tests (whether through health information exchanges (HIEs) or other networks).
Most providers seem to understand that improved image-sharing technology can make a significant difference in their practice. For example, a Chilmark study released at the 2012 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference shows that 91% of the physicians interviewed believe that image-sharing technology can improve patient outcomes and predicted that more organizations will implement image-sharing systems.
Patients prefer the cloud too
In the patient-centered model of care, patients play a larger role in their healthcare and need better access to their own health information. The healthcare cloud enables this by supporting patient portals through which patients can view their own records. According to preliminary findings of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Image Share project, led by The Mount Sinai Medical Center, patients find that the cloud allows them to store and distribute their images faster and more efficiently than current options. Delivering an experience similar to other online services, patients log in to their account with a user name and password and can upload and view medical images and reports. This is good news, as the final Stage 2 meaningful use requirements specify that providers must offer 50% of patients access to their own health records through a portal and 5% of patients must use it.
Successful collaboration requires an image-sharing strategy
Implementing a cloud-based image-sharing solution that will meet an organization's needs now and in the future can be a formidable undertaking that requires complex planning and involves the whole organization. It's not just Radiology anymore: multiple departments across an organization may benefit from the ability to store and share medical images in the cloud. For images to be successfully integrated into an EHR within one organization, let alone across organizations, it is critical to develop a clear strategy and policies for how the organization acquires, stores and displays all medical images.
Collaboration technology just keeps getting better
Migrating to the cloud opens up many exciting possibilities for healthcare organizations to leverage new technologies to improve collaboration. For example, mobile medical image viewers are constantly improving. Now, not only can multiple physicians view the same image remotely at the same time, they can interact with the image simultaneously, tilting the images, pointing to features, switching layers viewed, and more.
You can't collaborate if you don't share
For ACOs or other providers striving to implement more a more collaborative model of patient care, image sharing is a must. The most compelling, practical technology available today is the cloud coupled with cloud-based solutions such as medical imaging mobile viewers. Cost-efficient, pay-as-you-go and scalable to support an organization's needs into the future, the cloud is an effective solution for reducing costs, enabling physician collaboration and coordination, as well as increased patient involvement - ultimately for patients' benefit.
Barbara White is Director, AT&T ForHealth Cloud Solutions