6 Issues to Consider: Cloud-Based Imaging for Your Hospital

As hospitals move to integrate images with electronic records, they are finding that their legacy imaging technologies and manual processes for sharing images leave them poorly positioned to respond to market forces such as the pressure to improve quality and reduce costs. To meet the demands of the rapidly changing healthcare environment, providers are increasingly looking for ways to efficiently store and instantly share images and data with other physicians and patients. For many, that means transitioning to the cloud — easy, web-based medical imaging management that allows providers to search for, view and seamlessly exchange imaging data.

Is the cloud right for your hospital’s digital medical imaging? Here are six questions to ask to determine if this next-generation path is the one you should choose:

1. What should the imaging system accomplish now, in the next five years and beyond?
As clinical, business and regulatory demands drive the health system to become a collaborative care, coordinated and connected health information exchange ecosystem, providers of imaging services need technology to communicate and share data easily with physicians, patients and others while reducing costs. Unlike traditional imaging systems, cloud-based solutions seamlessly integrate radiology, radiologic viewer, storage, dictation and results reporting. The interoperability makes it easier for users to view, store, annotate and share current and historical images on demand.

2. What exchange, storage, access and archiving needs do you anticipate in the future? These needs will vary from provider to provider based on several factors, including the size of the organization, projected patient volume and demand for imaging services. Unlike traditional systems, cloud-based solutions allow users to eliminate the inefficiency of using CDs, snail mail, couriers and patients to share information with referring physicians; view a patient’s current and historical images on a single screen; and reduce long-term storage costs. Another key difference is that cloud-based systems offer users instant, 24/7 access to images and archives.

3. Is the solution configurable, scalable and flexible enough to handle evolving market forces, ongoing regulatory changes and new technology?
Providers that install cloud-based systems don’t have to install updates and maintain their imaging infrastructure. The vendor installs enhancements and fixes offsite. Users are often unaware of these changes, which are executed without affecting or disrupting their operations.

4. Is the system affordable? Web-based systems are far less expensive from the get-go because they don’t require large, upfront hardware or installation investments from hospitals. Organizations pay a monthly subscription fee, which allows them to access, store and share images of any size on the Internet. They don’t have to buy a server, software or contract with IT professionals because the fee includes maintenance. All they need are computers and a high speed Internet connection.

5. Is the application user friendly? The cloud typically requires minimal training because anyone who knows how to use a web browser, Google or Facebook will be able to use a cloud-based imaging system. Cloud solutions also greatly simplify access, as users can use a single password rather than several to access imaging data.

6. What impact will the system have on downtime and productivity? The cloud often accelerates the speed of implementation because users just need to connect to the system via the web. As a result, there is very little downtime or productivity loss. Organizations can shift imaging operations to the cloud in a few weeks, avoiding months of planning and implementation that a traditional system would  require. The web-based solutions also help to streamline workflow by cutting out the time and red tape involved in gathering all the relevant images generated by multiple image sources. With cloud-based management, retrieving images is as simple as a Google search. This simple, familiar technology ultimately enables facilities to boost physician and employee productivity to a greater level.

Roger Bird, MD, is a co-founder of  DICOM Grid, a healthcare IT company dedicated to making digital medical imaging accessible and affordable to all medical facilities and physicians by leveraging cloud SaaS (software-as-a-service) technology. He also is a neuroradiologist at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center’s Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, which is recognized internationally for its pioneering neurological  treatments, procedures and research into complex brain- and spinal cord-related diseases and conditions.

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