More than ever before healthcare providers and their patients are in need of a way to quickly exchange information, including images. However, some organizations haven’t adopted a system for sharing images or are only now considering how to implement such a system. Many still rely on physical media, such as CDs, to transfer important medical images. This method is no longer effective. Advancements in technology have given us the ability to streamline the overall process quickly and secure.
Let's dive into a few of the most common-use cases and benefits of instant image exchange.
Case One: Emergency Transfer or Consultation
Almost half of all patients who come into an ER or other referring facility receive a CT before they’re transferred elsewhere. When this occurs, the images need to be sent to emergency care centers in advance of the arrival of patients. Otherwise, caregivers will not have all of a patient’s information on hand. Without that information, they’re unable to make informed decisions or plan advanced care. It can also be difficult to understand the full urgency of the patient’s needs without this information.
Making use of electronic image exchange systems allows for images to be sent electronically in minutes not hours or days. These images are typically in the ImageExchange platform (cloud) or directly imported in the hospitals PACS, allowing staff to find the information needed to make critical decisions quickly. With ImageMover, these images can be accessed from a link integrated into the EHR, for even quicker retrieval. Facilities that have an existing relationship may already frequently exchange electronic images, but those that do not may need to partner to make certain that images can be quickly and effortlessly shared.
One example that shows the value of electronic image exchange, found in the Considerations for Exchanging and Sharing Medical Images for Improved Collaboration and Patient Care White Paper, is as follows:
"Imagine, it's 2 a.m., and a community hospital receives a patient with a head injury related to a motor vehicle accident. They perform a CT scan on the patient, but they do not have a neuroradiologist available or on-call and need specialty advice for this patient’s care. They reach out to the regional tertiary care facility. Following the agreed potential patient transfer protocol, the ED physician at the community hospital places a call to the tertiary facility’s patient transport center and reaches a transport nurse."
"The doctor and the nurse discuss the patient, and the transport nurse asks the ED physician to send the CT scan. The radiology technologist (or the ED physician) sends the exam from PACS via an electronic exchange service between the community hospital and the tertiary care facility. This task is completed within a few minutes."
"The transport nurse is notified that the exam has been sent. The exam is automatically downloaded to the local PACS environment at the Tertiary Care facility, where they do a QC check and make it available to the local neuroradiologist. The exam might also be made available via a local image exchange solution or even via a mobile app from the image-exchange cloud. The neuroradiologist accesses the exam and calls the community hospital ED physician to discuss the patient. Several possible clinical scenarios can result."
If this example did not have access to the electronic image exchange, the results of the patient could have been much different, even tragic.
Case Two: Telehealth Consultations in Burn Cases
When a patient has had severe burns, a telehealth consultation may be necessary if the facility doesn’t have a burn expert. Images may need to be shared among providers and between the patient and care providers. An emergency medical team, for example, may need to share images with an experienced burn specialist to know how to proceed. Once patients are in stable condition and able to return to their homes, they may also have the option of sharing images with their physicians, so they don’t have to travel as frequently for appointments.
This second situation, however, opens providers to HIPAA violations if they do not have a secure means of exchanging images. Patients may send images through their smartphones or by using a tablet photo-sharing app, but without a secure sharing option these images could be intercepted or accessed by those who should not have access to them.
Case Three: A Second Opinion
Image exchange can be used in some ways with scheduled outpatient appointments. It can be used by a patient who has been diagnosed with breast cancer for a second opinion, for example. The patient may ask for copies of the various imaging exams created by her original physician. She can then share these images with cancer centers and other professionals.
The patient can also share images in some ways. The easiest of these would be the use of a secure website of which the patient can upload the images. Another option would be for the patient to bring the images to scheduled appointments on a CD or even in the form of printed copies.
Case Four: Receiving Images Before an Appointment
Another common use-case for image sharing occurs when patients have a follow-up or referral appointment. Staff members can contact patients before their appointments and ask for any digital images they may have that are related to the reasons they’ve scheduled a visit. The patients can then be instructed about how to upload these images to a secure image exchange server. These images can then be reviewed by the specialist or another team member to determine if they are of good enough quality for use in diagnosis. If they are not, the patient can then be informed that further images will need to be taken before the appointment.
These images can also often be used to determine if a patient and a specialist are a good fit for each other. The specialist may be able to determine that the patient is in need of a different expert or has a condition he or she does not treat. Sharing images in this way can help reduce the amount of time a patient needs to spend finding the right treatment for a particular condition.
Case Five: Post-Encounter Image Sharing
In some cases, a physician or specialist may not know that a patient has had prior imaging. For example, if a specialist in arthritis learns that his patient has recently had an MRI but not shared that image, a staff member can contact the provider and request that the image is shared electronically. In many cases, a specialist may receive an image during a patient’s visit, allowing for the opportunity to review the image and make recommendations without the need to contact the patient later or schedule a follow-up appointment.
While these are five of the most common type of image-sharing cases, there are many reasons why physicians, hospitals, specialists, and other healthcare professionals may need to share images with each other and with their patients. Using secure sharing methods is the only way to do this safely.
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