Memorial Hermann Transitions to Cloud-Based Imaging Platform

Cloud-based electronic health record systems are being employed at hospitals and practices throughout the country, but some hospitals are adopting a newer cloud-based platform for an even more specific hospital specialty: diagnostic imaging.

Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston recently partnered with DICOM Grid to employ its cloud-based medical image sharing platform, which is more or less a health information exchange of X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and other images between MHHS and various referring hospitals throughout its region. Robert Weeks, director of information services at MHHS, says the new system has helped improve the trauma and routine patient referral process and has helped the hospital system keep up with their importation of large diagnostic images.

In the past, hospitals mostly used radiology film for its imaging, but now digital imaging is coming to the forefront, specifically the picture archiving and communication system. Hospital staff using PACS is able to take and save all images into digital files and see them on high-resolution monitors, but those files can be very large — up to hundreds of megabytes and gigabytes, Mr. Weeks says.

Moving those files among other hospitals is sometimes challenging because of the file size, Mr. Weeks says. A DVD or CD of the images would have to be created, and then the patient would have to take it or the files would have to be couriered by foot, he says. Losing the files could be very easy, and patients who have already taken a CT scan, for example, would hypothetically have to take it again. "We're at risk of taking another X-ray, radiating the patient twice and repeating the study when we don't get those images," Mr. Weeks says.

MHHS' cloud-based imaging platform has changed that, though, Mr. Weeks says. Not only has the software compressed the files into secure and manageable sizes, but it also has allowed the health system to receive and transmit the imaging files in a matter of minutes instead of hours or even days.

Mr. Weeks gives a case-in-point on the easy accessibility of these imaging files. A person was jogging and fell the night Memorial Hermann went live with its system. After receiving X-rays at Memorial Hermann's Baptist Beaumont (Texas) Hospital, it was discovered the patient had a complex fracture of her femur and hip and required more intensive care. The X-ray images were transferred over the image gateway and were received before the patient reached the transferring hospital. "When we are preparing an operating room, the trauma team can look at those images before the procedure and start planning for what we need to do operatively for the patient before the patient even gets there," Mr. Weeks says.

With any type of information exchange, though, there is the challenge of making enough connections to validate its status, Mr. Weeks says. MHHS has added Houston-based Richmond Bone & Joint Clinic, Huntsville (Texas) Memorial Hospital, Baptist Orange (Texas) Hospital and Baptist Beaumont to its network, but the challenge is always there to incorporate more providers for broader access of information. "Facebook with two friends is no good," Mr. Weeks says. "The more connections you have, the more valuable the network is."

Mr. Weeks says the cloud-based solution has worked well for MHHS, but other hospitals considering a cloud-based medical imaging platform should keep these recommendations in mind:

•    Don't make the system yourself. Mr. Weeks says radiology image sharing platforms are still an emerging and complex technology, and making one from scratch is not a good idea. There are standards and commercially available vendors with strong encryption and compression technology, so employing a homemade network of image sharing is not recommended, he says.

•    Emphasize security and compression. For hospitals that do look into the technology, it is of utmost importance the image files are secure and compressed into manageable sizes, Mr. Weeks says. For example, a file on MHSS' PACS has two parts: the medical images and embedded metadata. The embedded metadata is protected health information relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act such as a patient's name, social security number and ordering physician. Mr. Weeks says finding technology that has split merge capabilities — or the ability to remove the embedded data, encrypt it, compress it and transmit it safely — is essential to avoid hacking and to stay HIPAA compliant.

Related Articles on Diagnostic Imaging:
6 Issues to Consider: Cloud-Based Imaging for Your Hospital
3D Mammography Offers New View of Breast Cancer Screening
Report: Diagnostic Imaging Costs, Devices Changing Rapidly

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