In previous blog posts, you've been presented with a lot of high-level information giving you a strategic overview of the field of medical image sharing. Naturally, your very next question should be: "What should I actually do with this information?"
The right answer depends on your response to another question: Are you currently sharing images via film, CDs and DVDs, or the internet? Your answer here, and your current situation, will dictate heavily what you should do next.
If You Use Film
If you're currently using film for your medical images, you should almost certainly transition to digital imaging. Making this switch is important for a number of reasons.
To begin with, continuing to use film will reduce your insurance reimbursements in the very near future, because the U.S. federal government has decided that digital imaging is preferable to film. The government has also chosen to incentivize physicians to go digital.
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The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 requires medical imaging providers to migrate away from film and computed radiography X-ray imaging, and toward digital radiography. Providers who don't make the migration will see reductions in their reimbursements for exams performed on the old equipment.
Once you've made the move to digital, you can begin to reap the benefits, such as improvements to your ability to store, share, and analyze images. Storing is simpler and takes up less space in your office. Additionally, sharing and transporting images becomes a matter of a few mouse clicks. Whatever your reason for migrating to digital images, take advantage of the benefits that await you once you arrive.
Your patients will often want copies of their imaging studies that they can use to get a second opinion or consult with other physicians about a more complex issue. In addition, physicians themselves want the ability to consult with specialists in order to provide the best diagnosis possible. Using digital technology to share images is a dream when compared with film.
Once you've created a digital image, you can explain, show, and display things to your patient much more easily than with film. Digital images are much clearer than film, and you can also take advantage of higher-resolution modalities such as CT scans and MRIs.
If You're Digital
If you're already using digital technology to produce medical images, then you're in a better place than if you were only using film. However, as long as you're sharing images using physical media such as CDs and DVDs, you're still not taking advantage of all of the technological advances available to you.
The natural next step after digitalization is cloud storage. Moving your images into the cloud gives you the ability to share them easily and in real time. You no longer have to burn your images onto physical media in order for other people to view them, which helps keep patients' sensitive information more secure.
In addition, diagnoses can become more timely because multiple users can view images concurrently from anywhere with an Internet connection. Quicker access to images and multiple opinions generally result in better diagnoses and outcomes, especially in the case of strokes and other emergency ailments. Rather than suffering while waiting for a doctor to perform a read, patients can avoid undue delays and get a diagnosis as soon as possible.
Freeing yourself from geographical constraints and making your images more accessible also means that many physicians no longer have to be a jack of all trades. If you're a subspecialist for a general practitioner, for example, you might have some skill in reading images, but you're likely not a specialist in viewing specific issues relating to scans.
Moving to the cloud means that you can seek assistance from other people who can help you, even if they're not in your physical location. You no longer need experts on-site in order to have an expert opinion.
Finally, moving to the cloud means that you can potentially take advantage of computer-aided reviews. Machines can perform mundane analyses and first reads in order to find potential issues that a human should pay closer attention to, saving time and providing better results.
If You're Already in the Cloud
If you're already taking advantage of cloud storage for your medical images, you might think that there's nothing more for you to do.
However, make sure that you're taking advantage of the cloud to the fullest. Digital images stored in the cloud can easily be combined with the rest of a patient's electronic health record, making it easier for physicians to see the full medical history and providing a fuller body of information from which to draw a diagnosis.
No matter where you are in terms of medical image sharing, pay attention to the opportunities that technological change is giving you. Don't simply adopt technology for its own sake, however. Instead, find what fits best with your practice and use it to save time and money, do better diagnostic work, and enable better medical outcomes.
If you're unsure about where to get started, there are a few solutions available that will help your practice that are inexpensive enough to adopt. Although you don't necessarily have to jump in with both feet, you shouldn't be a Luddite either.
Upgrading your medical image sharing technology is like medicine itself—it's good for you.