The last thing an organization looking to consolidate patient images and streamline image sharing needs is a vendor neutral archive that’s not truly vendor neutral. So, how can you quickly sift through the hype to determine whether a product is a gussied-up PACS or a true VNA?
It’s actually not as hard as it seems. PACS are optimized for data injection—i.e., absorbing images from multiple modalities into the system so they can be diagnosed by radiologists and other imaging specialists. Vendor neutral archives, in contrast, must be optimized for outbound communication so that thousands of referring specialists in the community can access patient images. Any product you’re evaluating that doesn’t simplify workflow for all users (not just within or between departments) and enable image data sharing between disparate healthcare systems is not a true vendor neutral archive.
Of course, a true VNA allows organizations to take out an existing PACS and replace it with another without affecting workflow or data, regardless of which vendor they’ve purchased the PACS from.
“The first VNAs were more or less archives for radiology PACS,” acknowledges Cindy Hardin, executive director of infrastructure product management at McKesson. “Today, healthcare organizations shouldn’t settle for any product that can’t support more than one PACS and more than one department—radiology and cardiology, for example. And the organization shouldn’t ever have to migrate that imaging data again, even if it switches out its front-end application.”
Hardin notes that VNAs are highly effective tools for image-enabling an EHR. Organizations involved in an M&A process and those working to connect to an HIE also can greatly benefit from a vendor neutral archive. However, organizations integrating systems from a merger or acquisition should be sure their VNA vendor supports image file reconciliation in the absence of a master patient index. “Today’s advanced VNAs can ease this process, filtering imaging records with disparate medical record numbers before the organization has standardized its EHR or PACS,” she said.
Hardin stresses that healthcare enterprises considering a vendor neutral archive should also seek out the following:
- Support for all data formats
- Automatic data synchronization between all PACS and VNAs based on IHE’s IOCM standard
- Strong lifecycle management capabilities, including file purging, smart prefetching, and hierarchical storage support (so that older studies not recently accessed can be stored on less expensive media)
- Access to statistics such as utilization trends and system performance by authorized users so they can ensure an optimized image environment
Last, but definitely not least, the vendor neutral archive should work with the organization’s existing viewing strategy. “Customers want products that offer a low TCO [total cost of ownership],” said Hardin. “For a VNA, that means hardware flexibility and the ability to connect with a viewer from any vendor out there.”