Upgrading and Customizing Technology to Support Radiology Care

Digital platforms used for the transfer, viewing, storage, and processing of medical images have become essential to medical communities nationwide. Known as picture archiving and communications systems (PACS), they’ve been around long enough that medical practices may be in the position of needing to upgrade or replace them.

Such was the case at Spectrum’s Northern Radiology division a few years ago. A PACS is the backbone of radiology, so the system is critical to ensure everything runs smoothly.

With access to medical studies in a digital database, geographically diverse providers can read results and give answers to patients much faster than they could when using film images. This means that Spectrum’s radiology divisions include an unrivaled level of advanced, board-certified experts, many with advanced subspecialty training, who can read exams for patients who are nearly anywhere in the state.

Digital images from exams at all our partner hospitals are securely sent and stored on our centralized PACS. Our radiologists not only use innovative technology to improve radiology workflows and the patient experience—they’ve been involved directly in choosing its upgrade and customizing it.

“To set the stage, our old PACS had been around for probably over 15 years,” says Yeang Chng, MD, PhD, a radiologist in the Northern Radiology division of Spectrum Healthcare Partners. “It was old technology, and things were quite slow. There were constant downtimes, and studies wouldn’t load. All of that contributed to a significant decrease in efficiency. And, if you can’t see the images, patients can’t get care.”

A change was needed. “It’s a big endeavor to select a new PACS,” says Dr. Chng. But the team did exactly that, starting in November 2019.

The Extensive Checklist

Northern Light Health works with many physician groups, and Spectrum is their largest radiology provider. Radiologists in Spectrum’s Northern Radiology division provide radiology services to several Northern Light locations, including Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, the system’s largest facility, located in Bangor,

“In 2019, a group of us, mostly Northern Light employees, went to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting to view numerous demos,” recalls Dr. Chng. “I was the only physician involved at that point, and we worked together to narrow the shortlist of vendors to go on to the next round.”

Although Northern Light would own the PACS, it would ultimately have diverse end users, including Spectrum, so the system would need to satisfy a broad range of requirements. After more demos, further research, and physician references, the team chose AGFA HealthCare Enterprise Imaging.

Advanced Coding for an Enhanced Workflow

Before implementation, Dr. Chng spent two months writing code and working closely with top AGFA experts in Belgium to get the system ready for use.

Dr. Chng wrote code to unify the naming of imaging series so that a reading radiologist would know what to expect when opening a study.

“Radiologists want to have things displayed in a specific order. You want to go through the same workflow with everything in the same position,” explains Dr. Chng. “Imagine if you are a pilot and your instruments are in a different location every time you sit down in an airplane. It would be chaos.”

Thanks to Dr. Chng’s coding work, Northern Light Health radiologists have over 90 percent image identification consistency, a substantial increase from the 30-40 percent consistency on the prior PACS.

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