Before PACS became part of the radiology department workflow, radiologists and other specialists could only work with medical images strictly on their workstations. That resulted in physical inconvenience. For one, healthcare providers had to go to the radiology department to look at patients’ examination results because they were stored locally. Patients also needed to carry a hard copy of the results with them each time they visit a doctor.
With medical imaging software development, there can be several access points (computers) throughout the clinic that are connected to a single server where all the data is stored. In this article, we’ll explore what PACS is and how to integrate it with other medical imaging technologies.
What Is PACS and How Does It Work?
PACS is a medical imaging technology. Medical facilities and other healthcare establishments implement a PACS medical imaging system in the radiology department to facilitate image storage and retrieval.
Before going deeper into the concept, it’s important to first define a key component of medical imaging information—digital imaging and communications (DICOM). DICOM in medicine refers to:
- A format of medical images
- A protocol used by medical imaging devices to communicate with the application server whenever an image needs to be transmitted
PACS isn’t just a system for collecting medical images and providing constant access to them. A PACS solution has several components, including:
- Medical imaging hardware: These modalities refer to medical equipment that support the DICOM standard. Examples of such equipment are scanners for X-rays, computer tomography (CT), computer radiography (CR), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound (US), and ophthalmic tomography (OPT).
- PACS server: This is where DICOM documents are stored. The server retrieves, backs up, and archives files for long-term storage.
- Workstations: These are devices that load, read, and process medical images. They are linked to a PACS server to help radiologists retrieve, view, and interpret medical images.
- DICOM viewer: With the help of a DICOM viewer, medical specialists can display and scrutinize images. These viewers can come with PACSs or you can choose from the list of independent DICOM viewer vendors.
You can get the most value from a PACS after setting up a connection with other systems that are available in a clinic. For example, several hospitals use electronic health record (EHR), electronic medical record (EMR), or hospital information system (HIS) solutions. Large hospitals also provide the radiology department with a radiology information system (RIS).
These systems help healthcare workers efficiently work with patients and manage workflows inside the clinic. They provide archiving for patient data, serve as an appointment scheduling solution, and are helpful for other types of healthcare processes.
How PACS Integrates with EHR, EMR, and RIS
In a nutshell, EHR is an electronic version of all patients’ medical records, both clinical data, and details about a patient’s care. On the other hand, an EMR only contains the medical and treatment history of the patients.
RIS is a system for managing the work of radiology departments. Its core functions include patient scheduling, resource management, examination performance tracking, reporting, and more.
To make the PACS solution more effective, you can configure data exchange between PACS and the systems mentioned above.
When choosing a PACS integration solution, you can go for direct integration through the software’s application programming interfaces (APIs). This way, developers can establish a connection between several systems through requests. Each request contains a query for information or specific action that should be completed. An example of a request is to include a person to a certain list.
An easier way to integrate a PACS solution is to develop an interface that will interconnect all systems.
By integrating all systems, you will enable your medical practitioners to:
- Have constant access to medical images
- Display and view medical images in a standardized format (PNG, IMG, or SVG) right from their work computers, helping them avoid the necessity to use the local PACS server
As an extra feature, you can also consider automating the process of enrolling a patient in an examination session right from the EHR/EMR/HIS solution. That will reduce the amount of human work and accelerate the completion of regular tasks.
What Drawbacks Are There and How Do You Overcome Them?
One of the drawbacks of working with PACS is its archive. When you choose a PACS provider, you automatically sign up to its configurations for medical image storage. As such, you won’t be able to access medical images from another PACS software if you decide to change the provider.
You will have to store the images from scratch or copy them to local archives inside your clinic. You may also choose an additional image storage method so that you can work with them even with a new vendor.
Vendor-neutral archives (VNAs) can help. A VNA is an independent software a clinic will have to implement and install. With this software, clinics can avoid using archives from the PACS vendor and store medical images directly in the VNA through local or cloud-based archives. Clinics can change PACS software vendors in the future without having to worry about archives.
With PACS, radiologists can work with medical images more efficiently. PACS has a developed infrastructure that consists of hardware, a PACS server, workstations, and a DICOM viewer.
To make the most of its functionality within a medical organization, PACS needs to be integrated with other electronic systems. Integration can be set through an API or via an interface that will interconnect all systems. The latter needs to be developed from scratch.
The main bottleneck of using PACS is image archiving, but VNAs can help overcome this challenge to ensure continuous access to medical images.