Storage News

Future-Proof IT Infrastructure Needs Vendor Neutral Archives

Vendor neutral archives (VNAs) allow clinicians to view archived patient images in one place instead of logging into different systems.

Vendor neutral archives simplify clinician image viewing

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Vendor neutral archives (VNAs) allow healthcare organizations to consolidate and digitally transform their IT infrastructures to integrate imaging systems that were originally built and implemented for separate purposes.

Healthcare organizations are challenged by archiving systems for several reasons.

First, clinicians viewing medical images using only traditional picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) can only view one image at a time. Clinicians have to log into separate systems to see a single patient’s images from different departments such as radiology, cardiology, dental, and pathology.

Clinicians needing images from different departments to diagnose a patient have to log into separate systems to view each image. PAC systems don’t give the clinician a truly comparative view of the images, making it difficult for them to use the images to diagnose patients.

Data migration is the second challenge organizations face with medical image storage. Many healthcare organizations are finding that their records are outliving their storage solutions. Most healthcare entities are faced with at least one major PACS migration to a more scalable storage infrastructure.

VNAs allow organizations to integrate the viewing and storage of different health IT systems regardless of vendor restrictions. VNAs decouples the PACS and workstations at the archival layer by developing an application engine that receives, integrates, and transmits the data using the different syntax of a Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine (DICOM) format. 

VNAs provide one viewing experience regardless of where the images come from, cutting down on the number of systems physicians need to be proficient on.

IDC Research states that image data is one of the most common forms of data silos in health IT infrastructure. Images are large unstructured data files that take up a lot of space.

“Today's move toward collaborative care means more physicians need to have access to these images and image data, like radiology reports,” IDC researchers explained in the report. “Providers making care management decisions want longitudinal records that provide a 360-degree patient view.”

“This 360-degree view makes it easier for providers to identify, or use decision support tools to help identify, the most effective treatments and care plans for individual patients (or specific populations) derived from the combination and the analysis of structured and unstructured information.”

Healthcare organizations are charged with storing patient data for years and at some point, the storage solution needs to be replaced and the data needs to be migrated. Organizations can face challenges when migrating DICOM files when organizations migrate from a PAC system to a VNA solution.

DICOM headers accompany medical images to identify who the file belongs to and where it comes from. DICOM headers can also become mislabeled as a result of migration forcing organizations to go through a DICOM migration.

The incompatibility issue stems from organizations updating the DICOM header and not the entire image. Many healthcare organizations still store images on tape and do not have the capacity to go into the files and update them all before migrating the data. DICOM migrations are expensive and organizations can end up spending more on the migration than on the storage solution itself.

VNAs prevent excessive future migration costs by storing the files in a way that is future-proof.

HITECH and meaningful use are motivations for healthcare organizations to commit to migrating data from legacy systems to VNAs. While the initial migration is expensive, it’s an effective long-term way to avoid costly upgrades in the future.

Cutting back on the amount of time clinicians spend logging in to and out of different health IT systems is an important part of improving patient care.

“Most Healthcare organizations are seeking to affect the cost of care by experimenting with accountable delivery, new reimbursement models, and collaborative care while making concerted efforts at understanding and reducing operating cost,” IDC report authors explained. “For these measures to work, a broad transformation of the care delivery model is required. Data sharing will be key to making the collaborative care model work across care settings.”

VNA migration is one of the larger IT infrastructure undertakings organizations face, but it is crucial to value-based care initiatives. Making data more collaborative and accessible leads to better and more accurate patient treatment.