In every industry, there are all-in-one software vendors that create integrated solutions designed to address a wide range of problems simultaneously. While their solutions benefit from their seamless integration, the functionality of each of the individual components usually is not as good as the stand-alone vendors.
On the other hand, these best-of-breed vendors whose software focuses on doing one thing really well usually have superior functionality for their specialized application, although sometimes it becomes a burden to integrate several of these best-of-breed systems to work together.
When acquiring a picture archive and communication system (PACS), physicians and veterinarians are often asked to make this choice. If I am a radiologist, do I purchase an integrated radiology information system (RIS) and PACS? If I am a vet, do I purchase my PACS as a component of my practice management system (PMS)? Should my medical facility accept the PACS that is included with my electronic health records (EHR) system?
PMS, RIS and EHR v. PACS
When it comes to PMS, RIS and EHR, the decision to pursue an integrated PACS is usually based upon the desire to make an efficient purchasing decision rather than functionality. It is just plain easier to make one purchase and get all of your required functions at one time. However, most PACS that are included as part of an integrated system lack the qualities, facilities and flexibility that can help the physician or veterinarian make better decisions, improve patient care and increase efficiency.
Often a PACS that is part of an integrated RIS, PMS or EHR system has built in limitations. When your PACS is part of your PMS, RIS or EHR system, it is often bound by the hardware that runs the other portions of the applications. And while the PACS may operate just fine on equipment that is not optimized for medical images, you may find over time that you are locked in to the limitations of your available storage and accessibility (or lack thereof).
Why Not Use a Best-in-Breed PACS?
Some practice managers insist that all-in-one systems are the way to go, since they are simple to set up and simple to use. Unfortunately, this one-for-all and all-for-one architecture often leads to faster technological obsolescence. Advances in imaging technology for example, may outpace those of the administratively focused PMS, RIS or EHR system.
The density and size of medical image files continues to increase often outstripping the storage capacity of an all in one integrated on-site system. And the flexibility of a stand alone PACS to enable access from outside of your facility and to easily share studies with physicians or veterinarians outside of the four walls of your facility may be stunted by the requirement that your PACS is bound to its earthly RIS, PMS or EHR system.
Cloud-Based PACS Have Made it Easy to Integrate
A cloud-based PACS has improved the ability to integrate with anything. While the desire to acquire an all-in-one system was often based upon the pain of system integration, the web has become the big equalizer. Integration with a cloud-based PACS now is much less painful than its predecessor technology.
It is now a much more straightforward task to connect a web call to an EHR system, for example, to display the medical image on a browser window while simultaneously displaying the patient health record. With the ability for a single sign on - not needing to separately log onto multiple systems, a web-based PACS is also a natural companion to a PMS or RIS.
Therefore, if first-class medical image study management functionality is a priority for you, you can now choose a best-of-breed PACS without the former worry of a painful technological integration. You can enjoy the advances in medical imaging right along side your existing administrative application.
The best-of-breed PACS will make it easier to share images with other medical professionals, patients and pet owners. And perhaps best of all, when you select best-of-breed functionality, you are much less likely to have to compromise your current workflow to adjust to an integrated vendor's requirements.
It Comes Down to a Single Question
If you are struggling to choose between an all-in-one system and a best-in-breed PACS, ask yourself this question: What are the biggest challenges currently facing your practice? If you need more functionality and flexibility in the way you work with image studies, you will find that a cloud-based, standalone PACS is the right solution for your needs.