Big Winds Blow Provider into Future of Medical Imaging

Natural disasters have a way of forcing unexpected developments.
Take Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 mega-storm that pummeled the city of New Orleans. According to Chris Belmont, CIO of New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, when the storm hit, "Following Katrina, several healthcare providers decided to leave the market, so we acquired a number of hospitals and grew quite aggressively in a short space of time."
Of course, part of that consolidation meant combining information systems, and as Belmont describes it, "our information systems and organizational structure (weren't) suited for a big health system – one that now numbers eight hospitals and 38 clinics – so we had to come up with a workable plan very fast."
Belmont notes that Ochsner was already working with Agfa HealthCare, and "installing Agfa HealthCare's integrated ICIS VNA allowed us to consolidate medical images into one repository."
ICIS is a workflow-centric platform designed to meet multimedia imaging needs both between multispecialty departments and across an enterprise, and for Ochsner one of the benefits of using ICIS meant being able to coordinate radiology activities across different entities, "instead of having each hospital purchase or acquire its own PACS environment."
It's probably safe to say that most health system consolidations don't take place under quite as much pressure, but the same challenges often apply, with different workflows in use in different departments and enterprises for storing and accessing images.
Indeed, even within a system, says James Jay, vice president of radiology IT for Agfa HealthCare, image management is often confusing, at best. "Images are going into private departmental silos in every possible way that you can imagine. Some images are printed out and filed in a paper record. Some are stored on hard drives, CD or USB sticks. Some are entered as a line item in a spreadsheet."  There are risks inherent in these varied processes.
Given these realities, image-enabling the EHR is a logical way to help physicians deliver higher quality care, faster.
As Belmont sees it, "Aggregating images is definitely the way to go; as is putting them on a single platform."
Echoing Belmont, Charles Morris, Global ICIS business manager, says, "If physicians are limited to only looking at the textual data that appears in the EHR, then they aren’t getting the whole picture."
With ICIS, all of a hospital’s multispecialty images can be freed from departmental "silos" and made available and accessible wherever they’re needed in order to support efficient patient care.
Adds Belmont, "At Ochsner, we really (stressed) continuity of care. So, if you see an Ochsner physician at the clinic, get admitted, and then go back to the clinic, all of the records follow you. . . Information is available as needed – we don’t have to call across town anymore to have it sent."
With or without a hurricane, that's a change worth making.