What device are you reading this on? Smartphone? iPad? Laptop? Chances are, these days you're using your mobile device to access more information than ever.
This newfound availability of information is having a major impact on the medical field, influencing the lives and work of countless patients and doctors. What does this paradigm shift in "mobile culture" look like for your picture archiving and communication system (PACS)?
If you're thinking about riding the wave by adding mobile access and functionality to your PACS, first ask yourself: What would delivering "mobile" look like to your organization, and how are you going to achieve it? Keep reading for some answers.
Extend Your PACS
In many cases, a PACS consists of an onsite storage archive and a viewer that displays images, and the only way for users to access the system outside the walls of their facility is via a virtual private network (VPN) or screen sharing software that lets them view the desktop remotely. This convoluted, tech-unfriendly process can also result in degraded image quality.
The easier way to view medical images remotely is to connect and extend your PACS to the cloud. If you have reason to keep some studies locally at your facility, tiered setups are now possible where your onsite PACS can be connected to a cloud-based PACS. This can allow you to keep your most recent studies in the cloud while storing older images in your onsite PACS. In this fashion, your newest and most immediately relevant images are accessible anywhere on your mobile device.
For example, if you're in an operating room or at another site and get an emergency notification, you can quickly log in to the cloud and examine the desired study from anywhere without having to access your onsite PACS.
The reverse scenario is also possible in cases where internet bandwidth is a challenge or files sizes are incredibly large, such as with digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) images. In these cases, physicians may want their most recent studies onsite so they don't have to deal with slow download times but still want all their historical images stored securely in the cloud. This hybrid model is now possible as well thanks to new advances in technology.
Replace Your PACS
The second way to go mobile with your PACS is by doing a full-fledged replacement entirely with the cloud. Businesses may resist a cloud upgrade because they'd rather pay a one-time, upfront hardware cost than have a consistent monthly or annual fee. This, however, is counterintuitive as the hardware's future usefulness is uncertain and it begins its trek toward obsolescence as soon as it is installed.
However, moving to the cloud eliminates the need for costs like IT maintenance, and it removes any worries about technological obsolescence or data loss. Your hardware will naturally degrade over time, and you know that evaluating, shopping and purchasing a new solution every three to five years takes time, money and energy.
With the cloud, you simply pay for the costs of image storage and access, and you don't have to stress about a major onsite disaster.
What makes the decision difficult is the realization that the two options presented above are really the only two directions you can take if you want to give your PACS mobile capabilities. There are no other easy, cheap solutions you can attach to your current system that will magically make it mobile-accessible, especially if you're working with outdated hardware.
However, you do have choices if you don't necessarily want to do a full system replacement. As mentioned above, if you currently have an onsite PACS, you can opt for a hybrid solution of onsite storage and cloud-based viewing. You don't even have to replace your onsite solution. Just connect it the the cloud and go!
The most important question to ask yourself is why you want a mobile-friendly PACS in the first place.
- What are you not getting out of your current system?
- Is the effort of augmenting or replacing the system truly worthwhile?
If your need for mobile access is relatively infrequent, you might discover that the hassle and costs outweigh the benefits of the upgrade. But if your mobile-unfriendliness is delaying patient care, impeding physician effectiveness, or lowering patient satisfaction scores, it's more than worth your while to investigate your options.