Buying a PACS is a long term investment made by a healthcare organization, be it a hospital or a midsized outpatient practice.
It is the building blocks of a healthcare organization’s radiology and thus medical operations, without the most suitable PACS for the organization the flow of its operations are more likely to be interrupted frequently causing a major headache for both the organization’s employees and its management.
And due to the availability of a variety of PACS products and vendors with different offers and different reliability levels and functions, an organization needs a comprehensive guide to navigate through the market and determine which system can truly benefit the organization operations and be an addition to its assets.
That is why when deciding on which PACS vendor to choose and what equipment is necessary to get for the PACS to operate at its most effective level, healthcare organizations need to go through a comprehensive understanding and analysis process in order to understand their specific needs and where those needs could be met in the healthcare IT software market.
PACS consists of four major components: the imaging modality like MRI or CT, the network through which the images are transmitted either between physicians and labs or even patients, a database for storing data and workstations located in all operative departments used for viewing images.
These components need to be taken into consideration when choosing a suitable PACS for the healthcare organization.
Another issue that needs to be considered is the deployment strategy that most suits the organization, whether the PACS is going to purchased as a standalone system from a software vendor or whether the organization needs to purchase an imaging device along with the system from vendors like Siemens or General Electric.
The purchased PACS needs to be integrated with the organization’s EMR system as they are rarely sold alone, so if the organization isn’t already using an EMR system, it should purchase one that is easily integrated and compatible with the chosen PACS.
The very first step in determining which PACS best serves the organization needs, the organization needs to identify its buyer type.
There are three types of buyers when it comes to PACS: hospitals, mid to large sized outpatient practices and radiology centers.
Each of these buyers handles different quantities of data and thus has different system needs.
Hospitals handle a great deal of data and have robust needs for storage and at the same time efficient retrieval of images.
Hospitals offer different medical services and their employees include doctors, lab technicians, nurses and so on, so they need flexible systems that can be easily accessible from multiple departments and locations.
Midsized and large outpatient practices involve the practices of doctors with different specialties, like neurology, oncology, orthopedics and many other image intensive specialties, so they need robust needs that can only be fulfilled by a formal PACS.
The third type of buyers is radiology centers.
These centers usually buy PACS and Radiology Information Systems (RIS) as an integrated suite so that they can manage both images and clinical patient data in one package as they handle a high volume of both.
After determining which buyer type the organization is, some healthcare IT market trends need to be considered when selecting a product and vendor.
There is the Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, which is simply hosting the data centrally on vendor servers, or the cloud, and users can access the data typically using a web browser.
This is offered by application service providers and has become very popular in the healthcare industry due to the distributed nature of PACS users.
SaaS allows users to access the data without complicated network infrastructure.
The organization should also consider the growing use of mobile applications, as almost all stakeholders in the healthcare industry, including doctors, technicians and patients, use their mobiles to access, send and receive different medical data.
So it has become a necessity to make sure that the vendor of the chosen PACS has reliably enabled system access from mobile devices.
Also healthcare organizations need to take into consideration the integation process between the newly purchased PACS and the EMR system.
Two major issues that healthcare organizations must consider when choosing a PACS is efficiency and security.
As one of the main benefits of using PACS for all imaging operations is efficiency in the data storage, retrieval, printing and sending of patient images, the system chosen needs to be reliable and able to handle and manipulate large amounts of data.
Also, the system should have strong encryption and security measures to ensure that the storage and transmission of patient data are done securely.
There are several vendors that supply PACS either with or without imaging devices, and one of the major points that can help the organization in selecting the best vendor for its needs is its buyer type.
For example, a hospital should evaluate systems supplied by GE, McKesson and Philips, while midsized and large outpatient practices should evaluate Sage Integry, GE and Medics PACS.
Radiology centers should also evaluate Sage Integry and Medics PACS adding to that Ingenix.
A comprehensive comparison of vendors and their products based on factors like OS, network, configuration, supported modalities, redundancy/storage, etc. can be accessed here.
Last but not least, there are several benefits that an organization gets from purchasing and implementing PACS other than efficiency and security.
One is that the cost of image storage, processing and retrieval goes down tremendously because the system will efficiently do handle those tasks instead of employees wasting too much time and energy doing those tasks.
Also the organization won’t have to deal with paperwork and shelving and all the direct costs related to printing and storing physical images.
Another benefit is that PACS usually have analytical functions that can help analyze and assess images, thus assist physicians in drawing conclusions and eventually improve patient care when using easily accessible and reliable data.
A free medical software buyer’s toolkit can be useful in narrowing the options by filtering the data based on the organization’s individual needs, and this toolkit can be downloaded here.