(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- X-rays and other hospital images have entered the digital age at Missouri Delta Medical Center.
The Picture Archiving and Communications System, which went live at MDMC early last month, is already making things easier for physicians, patients and staff, according to Dr. Mahmoud Ziaee, radiologist.
Prior to the PACS, all of what hospital personnel call "modalities" -- CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, nuclear medicine, general X-rays -- were on film, explained Debbie Nichols, director of radiology at MDMC.
"Now we're 90 percent filmless," Nichols said.
"This is huge for the hospital, for this department," said Tony Coppage, PACS administrator. "It's a big step for the hospital."
Ziaee said the hospital looked into a system earlier but put off purchasing it for several years while they waited for developers to work out all the bugs. The wait was worth it, he said.
"It is one of the best -- the top in the market," Ziaee said.
Using a secure network, area physicians now have access to all their patients' medical images from any location with Internet access at any time, Ziaee said.
And in addition to providing convenient access to images, images stored in the PACS are actually better that those on film as they have a higher resolution and detail.
"The PACS also allows for much more manipulation of the image," Coppage said. "They have more tools at their disposal."
With a keystroke or a mouse click, physicians can instantly change the contrast on an image, zoom in, rotate and even invert an image at will.
"It is definitely more efficient," Nichols said.
The PACS will also alleviate storage issues for the hospital. Most modality images must be kept for five years, according to Nichols, before purging them. Prior images can be digitized and put into the PACS.
No longer will patients need to tuck a poster-sized piece of film under their arm to take to their doctor. Patients are now given a CD with all images on it to bring to their physician.
Nichols said for the time being, the hospital is still able to provide films for those who need them. Coppage said ideally they would like to phase film out completely, however.
The plan is to stop printing films for physicians by Feb. 1.
While the PACS is making things easier for physicians and staff at MDMC, Ziaee said, "the most important thing is patient care."
"PACS is much more efficient," Coppage said. "And it cuts down on human error."
In addition to archives and local backups, there is also a disaster recovery plan for modality images, according to Coppage, as images are backed up at a facility in Dallas.
MDMC staff trained at the end of February to be ready for the PACS implementation project which started in March.
"It was one of those things we kind of eased into," Coppage said. "It has been moving a lot quicker than I'd thought."
In addition to networking all of the hospital's modality equipment, implementing the PACS also involved updating the imaging equipment to be compliant with the standardized communication language used by the PACS so images could be sent directly.
"There were a lot of networking needs," Coppage said.
The project also involved integrating with the hospital's MEDITECH health information system.
"It's been a very long, hard project," Coppage said.
In addition to bringing the hospital's equipment up to speed, staff also had to adjust to the change.
"They're actually adapting very well," said Nichols. "It's been a very smooth transition."
Physicians are also adjusting to the change well. Once they learn the new system, they are finding they like it better, Coppage said.
While the five-year contract for the PACS software and archive system is about $1.5 million, a lot of the cost will be offset by savings on film, film processing and maintenance of film processing equipment, Coppage said.