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How to Choose a Vendor Neutral Archive for Medical Imaging

Vendor neutral archives are critical for healthcare providers organizing unstructured data to use at the point of care.

vendor neutral archives

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Vendor neutral archives (VNAs) are critical to health IT infrastructure as meaningful use and value-based care make it more important for clinicians to easily view medical images.

Using picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) is the biggest obstacle clinicians face when viewing patient medical images. PACS don’t allow clinicians to look at patient images from different departments at the same 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.

PAC systems are not optimal and do not accommodate the growing amount of unstructured image data clinicians need access to improve patient care. Clinicians need access to the images in real-time to adhere to value-based care initiatives.

The restrictions of PAC systems and the growing demand for a way to quickly view unstructured data across an integrated delivery network calls for VNAs.

VNAs allow organizations to integrate the viewing and storage of different health IT systems, regardless of vendor restrictions. VNAs decouple 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. 

READ MORE: PACS and VNAs Improve Healthcare Imaging Strategies

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, which eliminates errors, saves time, and reduces training costs.

Selecting a VNA vendor isn’t as straight forward as selecting other health IT infrastructure technology because it depends heavily on the organization’s business model.

Organizations need to assess their current business needs, but also need to consider agility and scalability and how that lines up with future business plans, according to IDC Research.

“In cases where VNA solutions meet business needs and offer more interoperability with an existing set of proprietary products, it is important to explore these offerings,” IDC advised. “However, in the long run, the cost of migrating existing image archives to the platform will be significant, and buyers should evaluate platforms that support long-term business needs against those that offer cost or time-to-implement advantages in the short term, accordingly.”

“Providers need to understand their need for platform and/or specific workload and workflow capabilities when making VNA and AICA platform purchasing decisions.”

READ MORE: Successful PACS Vendors Support Customers, Embrace Advancements

IDC suggested organizations looking to purchase follow guidance, which includes:

  • Assess the delivery model- considering a solution with cloud flexibility can make integrations and accessing data easier. Organizations should also look for solutions that have a good track record with HIPAA compliance.
  • Build policies for working with a VNA- entities need to create policies that accommodate archive expansion and organize around resources. This clarifies which implementations are priority and allows entities to assign project time-frames more realistically.
  • Seek out innovation-  unstructured healthcare data will continue to grow and VNAs need to be able to adapt to new and better ways of sorting through data. Organizations need to be able to access the latest technology developments.
  • Set IT goals- VNAs that have a self-service option can hold over departments that are not a part of the initial VNA roll out. These tools can be used so other departments can have access to shared data if they are not a priority for VNA implementation.
  • Develop archiving best practices- each organization has different needs and priorities when it comes to archiving practices which calls for constant experimentation and adjustments to approaches that will best benefit business needs, end users, and patients.
  • Connect the VNA to other new technology investments- the advantages of VNAs don’t end with image viewing and can be integrates with EHRs, content management solutions, and mobile applications. Integrating with other IT infrastructure tools gives users a more dynamic way to access data no matter where they are.

IDC identified several VNA vendors including BridgeHead, Dell, GE Healthcare, IBM (Merge Healthcare), and Lexmark. The report ranked Dell and BridgeHead as leaders, with the rest as major players.

Each vendor has strengths and weaknesses. The desire for broader services, which ties into future flexibility and integration with other health IT systems, is one of the more general weaknesses.

Organizations looking for a VNA solution with more services may have an easier time developing ways to expand their VNA in the future.

Entities also need to remain uninfluenced by vendor names during their selection process. A recent PACS report polled healthcare organizations to assess how satisfied they were with their PACS. The report found that many organizations chose a big name vendor simply because they had a lot of customers and were well known.

READ MORE: How Healthcare Providers Can Benefit from Cloud Data Migration

For example, many organizations chose GE Healthcare because of name recognition. However, many customers reported dissatisfaction with how long it takes to resolve issues and noted GE’s more passive approach to solving problems.

A similar problem can arise in the VNA market as well, so it’s important to assess all options before choosing the solution that has the best name recognition and perceive that solution as being better.

The faster clinicians can access unstructured data to use at the point of care, the more successful they will be in diagnosing and treating a patient quickly. As value-based care initiatives continue to influence health IT decisions, the more significant VNAs are to IT infrastructure.