HIMSS 2013: Radiology IT Undergoing Radical Changes and Meaningful Use is Just the Beginning (Part I of II)

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Doug Rufer

Doug Rufer, Director Technical Marketing and Clinical Sales Engineering, Carestream

By now, many of you have most likely embarked on your journey to fulfilling Meaningful Use and are under way for attesting your results for 2012.  With most practicing radiologists being eligible for Meaningful Use incentives, this healthcare transition period provides an ideal time for practitioners to plan for the shift occurring within the healthcare IT space.

Shifting Priorities

For years, radiology has operated in a fee for procedure model.  This model focused on volume to maintain profitability but not necessarily on quality and patient outcomes.  The shift taking place today is to a patient-centric model, which places far more focus on quality and outcomes and will require radiologists to focus more on patients from a holistic perspective when considering diagnosis.  This is where Meaningful Use steps in.  Meaningful Use has taken the forefront in healthcare IT as a way for the government to encourage providers to shift their scope of practice toward quality of patient care and improving outcomes.  While this is a direct departure from the high volume, fast paced environment radiology practices have been used to in the past, it does offer an opportunity to reduce healthcare costs by focusing on quality and outcomes.

Immaturity of Radiology IT

The problem with this change is that traditionally, vendors offered solutions that were focused on addressing the needs of individual departments (think RIS and PACS) but ignored how these solutions would fit into the overall community of other IT solutions.  Sure, HL7, IHE, and DICOM have allowed these systems to communicate some data, but when you consider overall enterprise workflow and data sharing at the patient level, these solutions fall short for today’s shift to a patient-centric model of healthcare delivery.

Consider this: we are experiencing an evolution taking place whether we are prepared or not.  Looking at the past, our IT solutions would trade information with select systems within a small community but once outside that community, exams may need to be repeated or patient information and history must be recaptured.  In the model we live today, some IT solutions have moved ahead to provide more inter-operability and provide data exchange outside the narrow community from the past (i.e. health information exchanges). While this is a good start, it still offers only a narrow solution to providing patient-centric healthcare. Gaps still remain on passing information and providing a cumulative look at the patient’s complete record of care.

Wave of the Future

Healthcare IT has indeed lagged behind other industries in terms of data sharing.  This is about to change.  Now, vendors are being held to new standards when developing their solutions to open up better data exchange and interoperability.  Meaningful Use focuses on the quality and outcomes of patient data and is pushing for regional data warehouses and data exchange for maintaining key patient data.  This data will eventually be exchanged with other data repositories allowing for better access to patient data, reduced costs (from repeat exams), and requiring physicians to focus on overall outcomes and not individual symptoms.

Why is this important?  Consider radiation dose tracking, another hot topic facing radiology today:

  • How does one track true lifetime dose?
  • What limits should be imposed on yearly limits?
  • How can healthcare providers make important decisions without access to all patient information?

Part II of “Radiology IT Undergoing Radical Changes and Meaningful Use is Just the Beginning” will be posted on Monday, February 18. It will take a look at what Meaningful Use can mean for radiology IT and the changes that radiologists will have to make to appropriately answer the questions above.


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