The Digital Decision: Considerations When Choosing a RIS/PACS Strategy

RT-Image | Many factors drive healthcare facilities to transition from analog to digital radiology workflow. Some organizations use this transition to improve productivity, workflow efficiencies, and information access. Other organizations make this transition to reduce report turnaround time to referring physicians or enhance the healthcare experience for patients. Still others strive to reduce overall imaging expenses or streamline business practices.

Regardless of your reason to adopt a digital radiology workflow or reinvent your existing digital workflow, it is important to focus on your healthcare facility’s individual objectives when evaluating the vast array of choices in the marketplace. Here, we will review factors you should consider to gain the most potential benefit from the systems that support your digital radiology workflow.

Multi-System vs. Single-System Approach

In the early stages of digital radiology, it was common for radiology vendors to focus on a core competency, such as RIS or PACS, and provide a system that supported a focused subset of the radiology workflow. As the radiology software industry continues to mature, there has been a general industry shift toward developing packaged solutions that address all activities in the radiology workflow.

Vendors who once offered only a RIS or PACS system are now offering combined solutions branded as interfaced or integrated systems. As a consumer, it is important to delve further to determine exactly what each vendor means by these terms so you can gauge their impact on your workflow objectives.

Communication Between Separate Systems

In many RIS/PACS solutions, the terms “interfaced” or “integrated” reflect a communication requirement between two distinct systems with separate databases. This communication requirement may be an HL-7 interface that connects systems developed by different vendors, or it may be a private communication protocol to connect a vendor’s modular product offerings into an extended system. While it is a great benefit to connect software systems to support all actions in your radiology workflow, it is important to recognize that process adds a level of complexity to your workflow and introduces additional points of failure into your system.

Software vendors, such as Charleston, S.C.-based Avreo, offer an alternative to this integrated solution by providing a single database system that supports features common to traditional RIS, PACS, and dictation/transcription systems. This approach simplifies the system and reduces potential points of failure due to communication errors between systems.

Segmentation of Data

Interfaced and integrated RIS/PACS solutions generally do not share a common database. This data segmentation can be problematic for several reasons. First, some radiology data is available in only one system, which may reduce your ability to access data when needed. Additionally, some radiology data must be constantly synchronized between the systems, which adds a level of complexity and introduces the opportunity for error. For example, if you update the spelling of a patient’s name in the RIS, the RIS must then communicate this change to the PACS.

Data segmentation and synchronization is not an issue for RIS/PACS systems that share a common, well-structured database. This improves access to information in all points of your workflow because data is no longer designated as RIS– or PACS-centric information. It also eliminates synchronization errors within the radiology workflow.

Impact of Upgrades and Maintenance

If you choose to interface RIS and PACS systems from separate vendors, you should consider the impact of software upgrades or routine maintenance on your radiology workflow. For example, if your PACS vendor offers a software upgrade, you should evaluate this upgrade in advance to confirm that it will not disrupt information flow between the RIS and PACS systems in your workflow.

Single-system RIS/PACS solutions generally reduce the impact of upgrades and routine maintenance on your radiology workflow because the upgrade addresses the whole system instead of one component within the system.


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