Aaron Green, Change Healthcare’s SVP and general manager of radiology and enterprise imaging, has watched the health IT industry go through a great deal of change over the years. Business trends have shifted, new vendors have come and gone, and groundbreaking technologies have evolved so quickly that researchers can hardly keep up.
One of the biggest shifts Green has witnessed is the relationship between healthcare providers and their PACS. At first, PACS were departmental or even sub-departmental, but the data explosion of the 2000s and increased involvement from IT departments led C-suite executives to start consolidating at a rapid pace.
“We’ve gone from a heavy footprint to a lighter footprint to no footprint,” Green says. “Back-end architecture is changing and things are continuing to simplify. It will be interesting to watch what happens now that medical imaging is finally making its journey to the cloud.”
Many health systems are consolidating to a single enterprise PACS, and it’s a move Green recommends all providers consider. To illustrate the benefits, Green provides three key reasons why you should consolidate your health system’s PACS:
1. It improves patient outcomes
Strong patient outcomes have always been the goal, but actual outcome-related statistics are beginning to play a bigger role in the decision-making of C-suite executives. This trend, Green says, is a direct result of the industry’s continued emphasis on quality- and value-based care.
“Value-based care really pushed CIOs to take a closer look at clinical outcomes and what needs to be done,” he says. “As CIOs began to prioritize outcomes, it has led to stronger working relationships with vendor partners that are focused on improving outcomes.
Today’s imaging providers are also asked to do more with less, Green adds. Both reimbursements and the number of available radiologists have declined in recent years. And this scarcity is happening just as imaging utilization in the emergency department (ED) and other areas is on the rise. Improving outcomes in such an environment may be challenging—but it’s not impossible. Consolidating into one enterprise imaging solution, Green says, helps providers find success in this changing landscape while still improving clinical outcomes.
“Enterprise imaging can solve a lot of problems,” Green says. “When three facilities run on the same solution, for instance, you are able to use specialists from all three facilities in a way that helps treat the maximum number of patients by the most certified specialist. For example, a neuroradiologist from one facility can read scans from all three facilities. It helps get each study to the physician who can provide the best interpretation and the best patient outcome.”
Green also notes that CIOs are being tasked with growing the imaging departments revenue, which was not the case in the past. Improving patient outcomes is a certainly one way to increase a health system’s revenue.
2. It reduces complexity
Hospitals have spent the last decade getting everyone on board with a single electronic medical record (EMR), Green explains. Now they’re ready for a PACS that aligns with that single-EMR strategy, one that keeps the EMR as the hospital’s “source of truth.” And that’s exactly where PACS consolidation comes in.
“When radiologists and other specialists within the care team access their system’s EMR, it’s important for that entire process to be as simple as possible,” Green says. “This is where complexity becomes so important, and it’s the same concept when you’re discussing PACS.”
Making it easier for these specialists to do their jobs also contributes to how they feel about their own job. Easier, more straightforward solutions can lead to happier specialists, which in turn helps keep burnout and exhaustion to a minimum.
“If you have your data in one place and your physicians can quickly pull up all the information they need, it really helps them get their jobs done as effectively as possible,” Green adds. “Instead of burying them with a complex EMR or PACS, providing data in a visible format helps them communicate with their colleagues and their patients.”
3. It cuts costs
“Cost will always be a strong driver when it comes to making big changes in healthcare,” Green says, noting that systems are likely to realize considerable cost savings when they consolidate multiple PACS into a single solution. Providers only have to pay for maintenance on a single database, for instance, instead of holding contracts with numerous vendors that all operate in their own ways and on their own schedules.
Another key way consolidation helps cut costs is speeding up patient care. Backlogged imaging worklists become a thing of the past when you can maximize the radiologists available to you, and that improved efficiency leads to much better turnaround times.
“From an inpatient perspective, the faster turnaround times means patients may be able to get sent home earlier,” Green says. “And when you’re reducing that length of stay, you’re saving money for the enterprise to help fund other initiatives.”
So—what’s the first step?
As enterprise imaging continues to gain popularity throughout the United States, those C-suite executives who may have rejected a proposal to consolidate PACS in the past may find themselves suddenly excited about the idea. But once they’re on board, what’s the first step providers need to take to make PACS consolidation a reality?
“It’s important to start with the problems in mind,” Green says. “What are the things that you, as an organization, are trying to solve from a business perspective and clinical perspective? And once you know the answers, it lets you begin conversations with potential partners with a real idea of what you want and what you need.”