High-Tech PACS Improves Performance at Pennsylvania Community Hospital

When Meadville Medical Center (MMC), Meadville, Pa., decided in 2013 to replace its legacy PACS, the 235-bed facility faced an issue common to community hospitals nationwide: It needed to meet higher performance standards from its radiologists and increasingly robust image management capabilities at a reasonable price point.  “We were trying to meet the needs of radiologists and referrers while making smarter investments in hardware, maintenance, licensing and fees,” recalls Terry Beck, RT, MR(R), radiology manager at MMC.

Among the organization’s most pressing needs was a PACS that could provide the native ability to review digital mammograms. “We purchased our first PACS in 2006,” Beck says, “and, due to MQSA regulations, there was a long period when we were still printing our mammography films. That forced the radiologist to get up from his or her workstation and go into another room to read.” MMC radiologists also needed greater speed and performance to keep pace with the organization’s imaging needs. “We only have three radiologists doing more than 100,000 studies a year, including 9,000 mammograms,” Beck says. “They’re reading an average of 150 exams a day. There’s no room for error.”

With 630,000 imaging studies archived since 2006, the time had come as well to implement a backup/disaster recovery solution. “We didn’t have a solid disaster recovery plan,” he shares.

Finally, the current PACS had become a drag on workflow rather than an efficiency facilitator. “Our staff was having to do a lot of patient and exam merges and edits that required PACS administrator involvement and impeded workflow,” Beck recalls.

Improved clinical performance

MMC managed to get everything it needed—and more—in Opal-RAD, Viztek’s web-based PACS. “Increased functionality was standard with the Viztek PACS,” Beck says. “It came with mammography licensing, external DICOM routing, CD burning from any workstation, disaster recovery and transcription. We got everything we needed in a single package.”

Today, MMC’s radiologists have all the tools they need to read any study on any workstation, including mammography exams. “The image quality from the PACS is spectacular, and the hanging protocols are very intuitive and easy to use,” Beck says. “The Opal-RAD transcription system has been working extremely well. And the system is customized to the workflow the radiologists were already using.”

In fact, Beck says, during the initial period of transition to Opal-RAD in May of 2013, Viztek sent its chief software programmer to the hospital to address four pages of fixes requested by the chief radiologist. “The programmer physically sat down with our radiologist and wiped out the entire list in an afternoon,” he recalls. “By the time they were done, the PACS was fully tailored to the way our radiologists had been working, and the chief radiologist said with these changes this system could be one of the best systems on the market.”

It’s not just the organization’s radiologists who have benefitted from the new system. PACS Administrator John Wilpula visited the offices of several clinicians to demonstrate how they could log into the PACS and pull up their patients’ images. “Our ear, nose and throat physician office requests patient images on a daily basis and the images are typically burned onto a CD.  The office was excited to gain direct access to our Opal PACS, negating the need for requesting patient images.  On the physicians desk were stacks and stacks of CDs and Wilpula was able to throw them in a box and have them taken away,” Beck says.

Full viewer functionality is available on any PC, an especially important consideration for MMC’s satellite urgent care clinics; the viewer is also available as an app for mobile phones and tablets. “Having those capabilities at their fingertips at all times is a huge advantage,” Beck says.

Maximizing resources

Beck observes that independent community hospitals like MMC are especially pressured to provide optimal care with maximum efficiency, and that systems like Opal-RAD are essential to achieving that goal. “Everybody is trying to do more with less,” he says. “We try to provide every imaging modality, and our previous PACS vendor would charge us to integrate with every one of those modalities. Because Viztek is vendor-neutral, the PACS integrates seamlessly with everything at no additional cost.”

Most importantly for community hospitals, the Opal-RAD system meets the increasingly stringent needs of clinicians and IT staff alike while reducing costs. “With the efficiencies of the system and smarter investments in hardware, maintenance and other fees, we stand to save $425,000 over a five-year period,” Beck says. “We got a new PACS, a new transcription system and disaster recovery while saving all of that money, and that made everyone happy.”

On top of that, the transition to Viztek’s web-based system—which uses streaming technology to optimize data transmission based on available bandwidth—enabled MMC to cut the number of servers dedicated to its PACS from more than 20 to just two. “We had a whole room dedicated to PACS,” Beck recalls. “We had two racks of servers. There are maintenance costs associated with those, as well as service contracts; they have to be kept at a constant temperature, and every five years you have to replace them. With Opal-RAD, we have two servers. It’s much easier to manage.”

In addition to being easy to manage, Opal-RAD allows for future expansion thanks to the system coming with indefinite licenses. The user base can expand over time as needs increase. “We can install PACS throughout our entire organization, not just in the radiology department,” he says. “When there’s a software update, we can simply push it out to all of the clients. It’s very easy to implement and maintain the system facility-wide.”