Why Interoperability in Diagnostic Imaging Matters and How To Achieve It


Diagnostic Imaging Sharing The first x-ray ever – of its inventor’s wife’s hand, showing her bones and wedding ring – was in film format, back in 1895. Today, patients share medical images with their physicians via CD, or discs may be sent by courier. However, difficulties with defective discs, different data formats and discs that contain the wrong patient data call for a better solution to data sharing. In order to review and share patient data of all kinds more effectively, achieving interoperability in diagnostic imaging is one goal many healthcare leaders are working towards today, and with good reason.

The Value of Historical Patient Information

There is considerable value to physicians and their patients when patient information is easily accessible. In fact, David Mendelson, M.D., professor of radiology and co-chair of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) International, says that interoperability is critical for the future of healthcare. Transparent, longitudinal medical patient records drive the decisions physicians make.

“The fact is, without historical information, clinicians may order or perform redundant exams, including radiology exams, labs, repeat examinations or other procedures that could be avoided,” says Mendelson. “Interoperability would support organizational efforts to avoid the duplication of costly services and also help ensure quality decision making. If a patient is hazy and forgets to tell you about an allergy, you would see the allergy in the accessed records and be able to prevent a contrast reaction or other severe reaction.”

Mendelson says that health systems should be working toward full, transparent interoperability that includes a consent mechanism for patients – plus security to help ensure that only those who are entitled to the information can access it.

Complying With Uniform Standards Can Be an Obstacle

However, achieving interoperability in diagnostic imaging across the country is going to take a concerted effort, with the largest challenge concerning standardization.

“The biggest impediment in the US is the lack of compliance with a uniform set of standards,” says Mendelson. “In terms of interoperability there needs to be an acceptance of a transport standard and the right security model. In radiology we’re just short of that right now because the vendors haven’t uniformly adopted an exchange standard.”

Organizations such as IHE and RSNA promote the adoption and use of tools and standards for interoperability. Mendelson says that discussions are underway about the possibility of credentialing to encourage vendors to set uniform standards.

Long-term Preparations Should Begin Now

In the meantime, there are steps that healthcare leaders can take now to better prepare their organizations for the future of interoperability in enterprise medical imaging.

“Imaging leaders should be insisting that the vendors incorporate these image exchange standards (IHE XDS-I),” says Mendelson. “If they do and only purchase products that incorporate them, they’ll be in a much better position to be prepared for interoperability.”

Many healthcare IT vendors are incorporating internet-based standards and working toward interoperability with other health systems. Here at McKesson, we believe that industry standards are critical. Standards allow us to work with our partners to test interfaces in laboratories and provide solutions that can be used in different facilities without going through long and expensive customization processes.

Interoperability in enterprise medical imaging is still a work in progress, particularly when it comes to determining standards. However, interoperability becomes closer to reality as health systems and vendors work together to improve sharing patient information, including radiology images, to support optimal patient care.

Read how the scalable, flexible ConserusTM Interoperability Solutions suite helps improve image sharing across an enterprise. Going to SIIM, May 28-30 in Washington, DC? Request a live demo of Conserus prior to the show and then visit McKesson booth 413.

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