Stairway to the cloud

By Philipp Grätzel von Grätz
01:07 PM

Cloud-based clinical information systems are becoming increasingly attractive for clinicians, hospital administrations and CIOs. In radiology in particular, cloud-based RIS/PACS solutions can streamline processes and facilitate cooperative care scenarios within regions or even across borders without compromising privacy. A remaining challenge is to address the popular misconception that cloud-based healthcare IT is about transferring patient data to Google, Amazon, Apple and the like. The reality is that RIS/PACS vendors engage in highly protected private clouds to guarantee the highest security levels.

Healthcare systems in industrialized nations have been under pressure for several years now. No wonder that IT solutions that help to increase care efficiency are high on the agenda of many hospitals. But the IT revolution in healthcare is not only about technology; it is also about business models. Software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) have been marketed as potentially attractive alternatives to buying large-scale information systems like RIS, PACS or indeed HIS. Under the “cloud” label, the concept has gained considerable momentum in recent years.

For Ulf Andersson, Marketing Director for Carestream Health in Europe, the downturn of the global economy is a main reason why the interest in cloud solutions is suddenly growing: “The crisis has had a massive impact, especially on public healthcare systems in Europe. Over the last two or three years, customer questions at trade shows, for example, have totally changed. People are aware of the cloud concept. They know what it means and come to learn what we offer and how we do it.”

Carestream is among the healthcare IT providers that have invested heavily in cloud-based services in recent years. Under the “Vue” label, the company offers a portfolio of cloud-based radiology solutions including a PACS, a RIS, an archive, a web-based viewer, and an interoperability architecture that helps to connect disparate PACS systems and enables healthcare professionals to collaborate across multiple sites. Globally, Carestream is already managing more than thirty million studies in ten clouds. In Europe, for example, the company provides a nationwide PACS service for all Scottish hospitals that is running at two data centers. Various big hospitals and regional care networks are also using Carestream’s cloud-based solutions.

For the user, the cloud is about accessibility and cooperation

Cloud-based radiology is interesting both from a user perspective as well as from the perspective of hospital administrations and IT departments, argues Andersson: “For radiologists, the key is that they are able to do their report wherever they are. And they have the tools that they need available wherever they are, even at home. They are not bound to a certain workstation just because, for example, a 3D tool that they might need is only available on that particular workstation.”

The second interesting aspect of cloud-based radiology from a user’s perspective is that it makes collaboration scenarios far easier than conventional radiology. Cloud-based systems like Carestream’s Vue portfolio provide customized worklists that can be accessed by all collaborating radiologists. In essence, a virtual environment for reports is created that is totally transparent to all radiologists involved. Andersson: “This really streamlines processes. What the doctors in Scotland tell us is that they feel much more relaxed. With the central worklist, they are more in control of their work than ever before.”

Working in different locations and collaborating with colleagues from other sites is increasingly becoming a priority for many radiologists both inside and outside of hospitals. Finn Kristian Mathiesen is a practicing radiologist and also the Chief Medical Information Officer at the public regional hospital group “Sygehus Lillebaelt” in Southern Denmark. He is responsible for an IT infrastructure that deals with more than 300,000 radiological examinations per year. The hospital group uses a centralized RIS/PACS architecture with servers at Vejle Hospital, one of the group’s main sites: “Recently we have changed our PACS. We now use streaming technology, so in essence we are working with a private cloud. The big advantage is that we are no longer limited to PACS stations. We have all functions wherever we need them. We could do a 3D reconstruction on a laptop in a car connected via an iPhone, for example, and in fact I have done one with a laptop on the WiFi in a plane flying over Norway.”

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