Overcoming medical imaging challenges in a digital world
Overcoming medical imaging challenges in a digital world

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Technology is key

A group of people in a work setting have a discussion with a white board with mathematical equations in the background.

Technology is key

EA group of people in a work setting have a discussion with a white board with mathematical equations in the background.


95% of healthcare executives view information technology as a strategically critical tool to help organizations be successful.

95% of healthcare executives view information technology as a strategically critical tool to help organizations be successful.

27th Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, March 2016.

Over the past several decades, the healthcare industry has moved a variety of processes from paper and film, to computers and clouds. However, leaders are looking for even greater value and efficiency from healthcare information technology.

In fact, according to a HIMSS Leadership Survey, an overwhelming majority of healthcare executives (95%) view healthcare information technology “as a strategically critical tool to help healthcare organizations be successful, especially surrounding their patient care focused efforts.”

When asked to assess the criticality of health IT to the success of varied areas within their organization, most respondents emphasized IT’s support of the organization’s patient-oriented initiatives. The top four areas cited⁠—clinical integration, primary care provider efficiency, mandated quality metrics improvement, and care coordination⁠—all focused on patient care issues and were deemed critical by at least two thirds of all respondents.¹

Healthcare organizations are discovering that, while operating in an electronic environment accrues many advantages, it also presents novel complications. Nowhere is that more evident than in the medical imaging realm.

The imaging challenges for organizations that accompany new technology include the need to deal with ever-growing imaging utilization demands, the difficulties associated with a fragmented IT infrastructure, and the drive to leverage technology to continually improve the quality of care.

The upshot for healthcare organizations? They must confront the paradox of technological innovation⁠—tremendous possibility, yet accompanied by increased complexity.

1. 27th Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, March 2016.

Image volume overload

A medical professional in surgical gear points to a detail on a screen with imaging studies while a colleague looks on.

Adopting new medical imaging technology is warranted, as various studies have “linked the use of imaging examinations to longer life expectancy, declines in mortality, less need for exploratory surgery, fewer hospital admissions and shorter hospital stays.”²

This, however, presents a challenge for many healthcare organizations, considering the fact that hundreds of millions of exams are performed throughout the industry each year.

To keep up with this surge in demand is no small feat. A study published in Academic Radiology illustrates how this spike is making work-life difficult for radiologists. The study highlighted a ten-fold increase in the demand for radiology imaging at the Mayo Clinic, from just over 9 million in 1999 to more than 94 million in 2010. That had quite an effect on work demands, as the number of images requiring interpretation, per minute of every workday per staff radiologist, increased from 2.9 in 1999 to 16.1 in 2010. In fact, the growing demand means that radiologists need to interpret one image every three to four seconds just to keep up.³

Adopting new medical imaging technology is warranted, as various studies have “linked the use of imaging examinations to longer life expectancy, declines in mortality, less need for exploratory surgery, fewer hospital admissions and shorter hospital stays.”²

This, however, presents a challenge for many healthcare organizations, considering the fact that hundreds of millions of exams are performed throughout the industry each year.

To keep up with this surge in demand is no small feat. A study published in Academic Radiology illustrates how this spike is making work-life difficult for radiologists. The study highlighted a ten-fold increase in the demand for radiology imaging at the Mayo Clinic, from just over 9 million in 1999 to more than 94 million in 2010. That had quite an effect on work demands, as the number of images requiring interpretation, per minute of every workday per staff radiologist, increased from 2.9 in 1999 to 16.1 in 2010. In fact, the growing demand means that radiologists need to interpret one image every three to four seconds just to keep up.³

Demand for radiology imaging

9 million94 million


Unfortunately, relief doesn’t appear to be anywhere in sight. With an aging population, imaging demands are likely to become even more pressing.

According to ITN Online, Global Medical Imaging Trends, the industry will need to cope with some 115 billion images by 2021 , based on an annual growth rate of 5%. The challenge for healthcare organizations is to handle all of this imaging growth while simultaneously dealing with cost containment, quality of patient care and data security.⁴

2. “Medical Imaging: Is the Growth Boom Over? The Neiman Report”, No. 1, October 2012.
3. “The Effects of Changes in Utilization and Technological Advancements of Cross-Sectional Imaging on Radiologist Workload”, McDonald, Robert J. et al. Academic Radiology, Volume 22, Issue 9, 1191 – 1198.
4. Global Medical Imaging Trends, ITN Online, March 2017.


Deliver personalization through data

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Growing pains

A hand points to a particular spot on a radiological image displayed on a screen that shows the reflection of a woman’s face.

Growing pains

A hand points to a particular spot on a radiological image displayed on a screen that shows the reflection of a woman’s face.

Content for your platform can come from many sources: product data, marketing content, user-created content. And, you need the ability to be able to switch the content in and out where appropriate.

Many healthcare organizations are counting on the idea that there is power in numbers to better handle the imaging onslaught.

In fact, the healthcare industry leads all other industries in terms of mergers and acquisitions⁠—tallying $2.64 trillion worth of mergers , compared to $2.57 trillion for energy and power, $2.37 trillion for financial services and just $501 billion for retail.⁵ In addition, 60% of hospitals are now part of a healthcare system. What’s more, radiology groups are becoming larger⁠—there has been a 30% increase in the number of groups with 65 physicians or more.⁶

Healthcare
$2.64 trillion
Energy and power
$2.57 trillion
Financial services
$2.37 trillion
Retail
$501 billion

These consolidation efforts are intended to help organizations bring together both technical and workforce resources to deal with growing demand. The “implicit logic” of consolidation is “that by getting larger, hospitals and healthcare systems will generate scale and reduce operating cost while still delivering the same level of care,” according to a report from PwC.



Unexpected side effects

The problem is that this consolidation frenzy is not producing the expected economies of scale. According to PwC, healthcare systems comprising multiple facilities are not experiencing any scale effects. The study found no statistically significant correlation at the system level between bed capacity and cost per encounter across all four types of health systems that researchers considered. Not even for-profit, non-teaching systems, which typically pay close attention to finances, were able to show benefits from such consolidation.⁷

The unfortunate fact of the matter is this: while organizations are consolidating, their information systems⁠—including their imaging systems⁠—often stubbornly remain in silos. This means healthcare organizations are dealing with several resulting challenges:

– Decentralization of resources and expertise

– Lack of standardized processes

– Higher costs associated with too many vendors

– Complex, and often ad hoc, workflows

Workflow challenges are proving to be especially burdensome for radiologists. When chest x-rays are read on one system and mammograms are handled on another, for example, the disconnect makes it difficult for radiologists to physically complete their work, which could contribute to burnout. These interrupted workflows are especially disconcerting for those radiologists who, by nature, like to focus on one thing while working, and don’t do well with starts and stops.


5. “Hospital ‘merger-mania’ keeps up momentum”, Fierce Healthcare, January 2017.
6. “In the Heights: The Radiology 100 Achieves a New High, Steady Growth Prevails”, Radiology Business Journal, October 2016.
7. “Size Should Matter: Five ways to help healthcare systems realize the benefits of scale”, PwC, March 2016.


Innovate faster to stay ahead

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The quality of care conundrum

A medical professional stands with a file in her hand while a patient sits on a hospital bed in the background.

The quality of care conundrum

A medical professional stands with a file in her hand while a patient sits on a hospital bed in the background.

Apart from the challenges related to image volume explosion and fragmented IT infrastructure, healthcare organizations are also struggling with quality concerns, both from patients and regulators.

A study to better understand a patient’s perspective on healthcare in the U.S. found that one in five patients felt the quality of care was less than good .⁸ With such dissatisfaction providing a nudge, it’s not surprising that quality concerns surrounding patient care and patient satisfaction accounted for the top two and three priorities of CIOs, according to a HIMSS study.⁹ As such, the need to address quality is non-negotiable.

The many ways of looking at quality of care make it difficult to effectively measure how well health systems are doing and which types of quality should take priority. Healthcare organizations, for example, are finding that they need to address quality in both an objective and subjective manner. The need to report on hard measures such as low report turnaround time and clinical outcomes has never been greater. In light of the many value-based care initiatives that have been introduced in recent years, reporting on such quality measures could even have a potential impact on financial reimbursements.


Providing patient-friendly care

A healthcare provider writes on a pad in an exam room while a mother looks on and a young child is busy viewing an iPad.

At the same time, healthcare organizations need to consider more subjective quality measures, especially when looking at the overall patient care experience. Radiology has become a very competitive market, where patients are increasingly making their own decisions, such as tradeoffs between convenience, price and perceived quality.

Many aspects of the patient experience cannot be tied to objective clinical measures and, instead, are linked to factors such as convenient scheduling, appointment reminders, access to images and reports, as well as seamless collaboration among reading and referring physicians.

To address such situations, healthcare organizations are looking for ways to better connect patients, clinicians and the healthcare system. Patients want to communicate with healthcare organizations in the same way they interact with retail establishments and banks⁠—through computers and smart devices.

Such quality concerns often prompt organizational leaders to continually assess their progress by asking questions. Is the organization struggling to deliver care? Are the best experts assigned to the proper studies? Were all the stakeholders able to collaborate on the case? Are patients receiving services in a consumer-friendly manner?

8. “Patients’ Perspective on Healthcare in the United States”, NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, February 2016.
9. HIMSS Leadership and Workforce Survey, 2017.


Work smarter with AI

Work smarter with AI

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Prescription for change

Close up image of three people sitting in an audience looking at reading material

Prescription for change

To overcome imaging challenges associated with volume, integration and quality, healthcare organizations must address the need for comprehensive enterprise data management. This need is widely acknowledged, as evidenced by the fact that the global medical image management market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.5% from 2016 to 2021, according to a report from MarketsandMarkets.¹⁰

2016
6.5% 2021

A vendor neutral archive (VNA), for example, can help organizations better access, manage and protect the plethora of images generated by various image-capturing modalities. A VNA combined with an enterprise viewer not only provides access to any image, anywhere, any time, but also safely stores and manages images in a centralized location. Such a system can archive all images, both DICOM and non-DICOM.

In addition, healthcare organizations should consider medical imaging management systems that offer:

Scalability

Achieved through a centralized vendor-neutral repository that can manage multiple types of content in a cost-effective way, and without a decline in performance. At scale, organizations can leverage a mix of on-premise and cloud storage, so as to free resources and enable new ways to deliver better care.


Simplicity

Gained through a single platform that aggregates study worklists and patient data, which can lead to productivity gains for radiologists and referring physicians, resulting in greater job satisfaction.


Sharing

Can lead to improved quality through collaboration. When physicians share images more easily, they communicate more effectively⁠—and create consensus around the best course of care to their patients.


Healthcare organizations that have an enterprise medical imaging management system with these attributes can improve care and enhance both provider and patient experiences.

10. “Medical Image Management Market by Product (PACS: Departmental - Radiology, Cardiology - Enterprise), VNA (On-premise, Hybrid, Cloud, Multi-department, Multi-site, ISV), AICA) & End user (Hospitals, Diagnostic Imaging Centers, ASC, CRO) - Forecasts to 2021”, MarketsandMarkets, October 2016.

Prescription for change

Prescription for change

1 min read

 

 

About Watson Health Imaging

A healthcare provider views two computer screens with radiology studies while typing on a keyboard.

About Watson Health Imaging

Watson Health Imaging, a segment of IBM Watson Health, is a leading provider of innovative cognitive computing, enterprise imaging and interoperability solutions that seek to advance healthcare. Its Merge-branded enterprise imaging solutions facilitate the management, sharing and storage of billions of patient medical images.

With solutions that have been used by providers for more than 25 years, Watson Health Imaging is helping to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and enhance the quality of healthcare worldwide.



About Watson Health Imaging

About Watson Health Imaging