PACS Neutral: The Solution To The Oncoming Image Management Surge?


 Vendor Neutral Archive Technology is drastically changing healthcare by putting infinite novels of patient data at physicians’ fingertips. Medical images in particular produce extremely large data files and plenty of them. But who owns all that data – your hospital or your patient? The answer is neither. (Source: HealthImaging)

According to Chris Tomlinson, MBA, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “currently, applications own data. When a provider chooses a PACS, they are locked in to that vendor, which can make it difficult to switch vendors, add applications or share data between applications. If the provider wants to upgrade or switch vendors, it also requires a costly data migration process.”

While this may be the case for some organizations, due to proprietary characteristics associated with DICOM images and/or data formats, PACS vendors exist that offer the same easy access to images as that offered by independent or “neutral” archive vendors. (Be aware that embracing a VNA strategy does not really neutralize any vendor but, rather, adds another vendor to the mix.)

Tomlinson seems to agree. He disputes the Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) moniker and believes the more apt name should be “PACS neutral.” He sees the communication system serving merely as a router for the flow of data and not as the central hub of a hospital’s archiving needs.

Managing Large Data Requires Change in Archive Ownership

If PACS were indeed the central enterprise imaging repository, then organizations must realize that the ever increasing amounts of stored imaging data no longer fit into one system. Tomlinson suggests that, in order to manage all of this data, an institutionally owned archive with departments retaining ownership of the viewer is essential.

He proposed three layers in this scenario:

  • An application layer, consisting of the various modalities, workstations, PACS and other systems;
  • An image management layer, or VNA;
  • A storage layer, providing vendor agnostic storage.

A “true” PACS would be utilized as an image viewer and workflow tool that works with any application or hardware vendor, Tomlinson explained.

Vendors who can discuss, design and deliver on a broader solution bring a wealth of workflow and data management skills to the bigger healthcare picture. A PACS solution that can separate the clinical and diagnostic side of any patient image while offering an historical view in a well-organized, robust and reliable archive holds the key to delivering a successful enterprise imaging strategy.

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