Cloud-based PACS system cuts imaging costs by half for rural hospital

Republic County Hospital in Kansas freed itself from buying new equipment every few years and improved the software’s ease of use for clinicians.
By Bill Siwicki
12:27 PM
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exterior of Republic County Hospital in Belleville, Kansas

Republic County Hospital in Belleville, Kansas. Credit: Google Maps

Republic County Hospital in North Central Kansas had an imaging problem: Its picture archiving and communications system was supplied by the radiology group that read images for the hospital. It was locked into the group, which limited its ability to find more cost-effective pricing on the open market. The hospital concluded something had to change.

So Republic County Hospital selected its own PACS, a cloud-based system that ultimately cut its price per study by 50 percent.

"This essentially freed us from the heavy burden of a large cash outlay every several years for new archiving servers," said David-Paul Cavazos, CEO of Republic County Hospital. "With the cloud-based PACS solution we are able to securely access our radiology imaging exams anywhere there is an internet connection."

Being a rural facility, the hospital could never have made this move to a cloud-based PACS, from vendor Ambra, if it had not first upgraded its internal hospital network to a new fiber-optic system, allowing it to not be bottlenecked by the hospital's own ability to receive the data coming in.

The complexities of traditional PACS software often acted as a barrier to non-radiology users, Cavazos explained, never allowing staff to fully adopt a strong sense of buy-in to software that seemed built to keep them out.

PACS systems are central to healthcare today, and there are many vendors, including AGFA HealthCare, Canon USA, Carestream Health, FujiFilm Medical Systems USA, Hyland Healthcare, Konica Minolta, Philips, RamSoft and Siemens.

"Healthcare should work for the patient and not expect the patient to work for it."

David-Paul Cavazos, Republic County Hospital

Operating a cloud-based vendor-neutral archive as opposed to the traditional VNA is a different set-up indeed, as Cavazos quickly discovered.

Aside from cost, accessibility and ease of use, moving to the cloud-based PACS also allowed the hospital to unchain itself from being solely obligated to using its single radiology reading group.

"In order for a hospital to remain financially viable, it must periodically review its contracts to make sure that it is getting the best quality service at the most cost-effective price," Cavazos explained. "This can usually only be done by comparing what you are currently paying to what is being offered on the open market. This is made more difficult when you are bound to your current reading group because they also hold your PACS."

Separating from that group proves that the hospital is willing to search for a higher level of service, one that comes with a greater amount of financial sustainability, he added. The technology is at the very heart of what will give the hospital a fighting chance, he said.

"Ten years ago this technology was not available to a hospital of our size without a significant and burdensome financial investment," he said. "Now it is."

Before the cloud-based PACS, "our medical staff could only access their patients' studies from certain designated terminals in the hospital," Cavazos said. "Now they can view their patients' imaging from their office, home or while on vacation if they truly wish. Not only that, but with the ability to connect with any other vendor or send securely via email, it has also improved the level of access for our specialty doctors who rotate through our clinic."

Removing the barriers between patient and provider that existed in an increasingly data-driven world did two things.

"First, it allowed the provider greater access to their patients' imaging information," he said. "And second, it removed the need for us to rely on patients to transport their imaging back and forth between their providers on outdated discs which were susceptible to damage or loss. Healthcare should work for the patient and not expect the patient to work for it."

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com