Although cloud-based picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) are in vogue as of late, they're not a panacea for your practice. It's likely that there will always be a demand for an onsite PACS that does not require you to be permanently connected to the internet to view your medical imaging studies.
While the benefits of a cloud PACS are real and very different than those of an onsite PACS, using both, an onsite and cloud PACS in their optimal manner can enhance your use of medical imaging and keep your costs under control.
To get the best advantages from your onsite and cloud-based PACS, some medical practices have begun using cloud storage as a supplement to their existing PACS and vice versa. So, what are the advantages of keeping studies in the cloud and what are the factors that should play into your PACs architectural decision?
Typically, the direct costs of using a cloud-based PACS are higher than the out-of-pocket costs of a local, onsite PACS. This is because with an onsite PACS you're responsible for both the operation of the equipment (people, power and pipes) as well as its ultimate technical obsolescence. However, many cost-conscious practices would rather shoulder that burden than pay more for the cloud.
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But in many cases, the benefits of storing and accessing studies in the cloud are compelling. Temporary cloud storage helps make these benefits accessible at a fraction of the cost of permanent cloud archive.
With temporary cloud storage, your most recent studies can be placed in the cloud immediately at a time when they're most relevant for review by patients or other physicians, enabling them to be easily shared and viewed. This is typical during the first 90 days after the study was created. Over time, these temporarily stored studies are removed and replaced in the cloud by more recent ones.
For temporary cloud-based storage users, a permanent archive will be in the less expensive onsite PACS.
There are situations where physicians need to view studies immediately after a patient scan. When you are dealing with large and complex files, such as MRIs and CT scans, accessing them locally may be much less time consuming than sending them to the cloud, and accessing them from there.
Hence, rather than waiting for the initial reads of the studies to be sent to the cloud, a temporary local cache can be utilized to accelerate their availability. Ultimately, these studies would be sent to the cloud for both permanent archives as well as enhanced accessibility, while enabling mobility and sharing with other physicians.
Often, practices with multiple locations may benefit from staged PACS solutions in both the cloud and onsite. Certainly, physicians don't want to search through multiple location onsite PACS to find a patient's prior studies should the patient find it convenient to visit different offices at different times. In many instances, practices may have modalities at one location but will be reading studies at another.
In either of these scenarios, it will likely be advantageous to consolidate the permanent storage of your medical images in the cloud. This will obviate the issues of multiple locations. Images stored in the cloud will ultimately be available wherever or whenever the patient arrives for subsequent treatment.
Whether or not the practice maintains a local PACS is up to the practice; yet, if they wish to avoid issues should the internet be interrupted, or to quickly access studies immediately after a scan, cloud storage is something to seriously consider.
Cloud PACS have many benefits far beyond offsite archival storage, but they're not an ideal solution for everyone at all times. If drawbacks, such as slow access speeds or internet interruption, are your concern, you can get the best of both worlds by weaving cloud-based PACS into your overall PACs architecture.