Electronic tools help to lower image transfer costs

Medical image transfers carried out using the combination of a virtual private network and CDs helped researchers to reduce the rate of repeat CT scans, according to a study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The study authors, who used retrospective data from the University of Washington's Harborview Medical Center, found that out of nearly 500 trauma patients transferred to the facility between June 1 and July 15, 2009, repeat imaging only took place for 17 percent, compared with rates as high as 58 percent for other systems reviewed. The researchers believe that the results show that regional picture archiving and communication systems can effectively help to lower both cost and radiation exposure for trauma patients.

Harborview staff set up an Internet-based virtual private network to enable image sharing with outside hospitals. They also began using technology to enhance the compatibility of CDs used by hospitals that could not connect to the VPN.

On a per patient basis, CT studies that were repeated at the trauma center cost roughly $85 per patient. Initial CT studies transferred for the patients cost slightly more than $768 per patient.

One of the main goals of the researchers is to eventually halt the use of CDs for image transfers, altogether. 

"When [CDs] are used, they slow the process and are seen as not ideal," study co-author Martin Gunn, an associate professor of body imaging and emergency radiology, told AuntMinnie.com. According to Gunn, Harborview uses CDs for image transfers only 10 percent of the time.

Chris Tomlinson, administrative director of radiology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said at last month's annual Association of Medical Imaging Management meeting that he thinks PACS, too, is outdated. Tomlinson believes that vendor-neutral archiving systems will phase out PACS, especially since with the latter, vendor-specific applications own the data.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- check out this AuntMinnie.com article (registration required)