Maine HIE to create 'nation's first' statewide medical image archive

Maine's health information exchange HealthInfoNet is planning a five-month pilot to create a statewide medical imaging archive, which it says will be a nationwide first.

The health exchange decided in 2009 not to include images because they average 50 megabytes each. With the state's providers creating 1.8 million medical images a year, the bandwidth strain would make the system unbearably slow. But clinicians keep asking for the images, not just the text report they have been getting.

The pilot will use 200 terabytes of storage for X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and mammograms, and will involve 56 radiology imaging centers, which produce 80 percent of the state's images, Computerworld reports.

As it stands now, images are stored on various picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) within the hospitals. When needed by a non-affiliated doctor or hospital, they're copied to CD, then someone has to transport them over.

The health exchange says the statewide archive will save $6 million over seven years through reduced storage and transport costs and will save money by cutting down on repeat tests, which will, in turn, result in less radiation exposure for patients. Doctors won't have to wait days to receive an image and they will be able to look at a linked history of images to track changes over time.

The health exchange is partnering with Dell, which will host the archive in a public cloud using its Unified Clinical Archive solution. It will use a subscription model, with users charged on a per-study basis. The service prepares Maine's providers for sharing images through the NwHIN Direct and Connect systems, and supports the development of accountable care organizations and other shared-risk models.

 "As the concept of ACO starts to come into place, a service like this fits very well and is very needed,"Todd Rogow, director of information technology at HealthInfoNet, tells Heathcare IT News.

HealthInfoNet, Dell and the pilot group of healthcare organizations will work together over the summer to confirm the system design and integrate the service with existing PACs systems and the exchange. HealthInfoNet expects to expand the service statewide by 2013.

Maine isn't alone in attempting to share medical images the cloud. Researchers at Peake Healthcare Innovations (a collaborative venture between Johns Hopkins University and Harris Corp.), VMware, and Intel are teaming up to create a medical imaging mega-cloud. That effort got under way in March with Johns Hopkins serving as a testing ground in preparation for a nationwide rollout.

And last November, imaging technology vendor Merge Healthcare launched a free medical image sharing service, Merge Honeycomb, also hosted by Dell.

To learn more:
- here's the HealthInfoNet announcement
- read the Computerworld article
- here's HealthInfoNet's blog post
- check out the Healthcare IT News article

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