Will VNAs replace PACS for imaging management?

Medical imaging picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) soon will be phased out in favor of vendor-neutral archiving (VNA) systems that return imaging-management control to hospitals and medical practices, a radiology executive has predicted.

The problem with a PACS is that the vendor-specific applications own the data, Chris Tomlinson, administrative director of radiology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said this week at the annual Association of Medical Imaging Management meeting. That can make it difficult to add applications, share data between applications or even switch vendors, Tomlinson said, according to a report by Health Imaging.

Further sounding the death knell for PACS, he said, is that the amount of data that must be stored is increasing, along with image file sizes and the need to integrate images from other departments with those in radiology.

A VNA would manage and route data to workstations and other systems regardless of what PACS vendor is in use, he said. The VNA would represent the image-management layer of a three-layer model that also includes an application layer and a storage layer, according to the Health Imaging report.

It also would save providers an estimated $3 million over five years, said Tomlinson, who also is executive director of Radiology Associates at the hospital.

In a February blog post, Michael J. Gray of Gray Consulting said a VNA would directly address seven of 10 common problems of PACS: integration, downtime, hanging protocols, interoperability, data migration, disaster recovery and confusion over whether radiology or IT owns PACS.

It's a good concept, he said, but an expensive proposition that requires multiyear budgeting similar to first-generation PACS deployments. He recommended a phased implementation that starts with "parking" a copy of image data for future use, then migrating to more functionality as departmental PACS are phased out.

Providers are divided between VNAs and a PACS enterprise archive solution, research firm KLAS concluded in a study released in July. What they agree on is that a single vendor can't meet all their needs.

To learn more:
- read the Health Imaging report
- check out Gray's blog