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PACS: What Is It, Benefits, And Uses In Healthcare
PACS: What Is It, Benefits, And Uses In Healthcare

PACS in Healthcare: Function, Benefits and Uses

Key takeaways

PACS stands for Picture Archiving and Communications System. PACS in healthcare offers cardiologists, radiologists, and other healthcare professionals a modernized way to streamline the collection, storage, markup, and exchange of clinical images.

PACS stores images produced by several types of diagnostic hardware, including:

  • X-ray plain film (PF)
  • Digital X-ray (DX)
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
  • Endoscopy (ES)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound (US)
  • Visible light photography (VL)

As a modernized solution, PACS offers healthcare professionals a way to easily store and share high-quality images in less time. Today, PACS providers are leveraging advances in cloud computing to create faster, more secure, highly accessible, and feature-rich systems.

What is PACS? Purpose and function

PACS was originally designed as a way for radiologists to exchange clinical images easily using a digital medium. Traditionally, radiological images were captured and stored on film, slowing down the process of collaborative care. If patient images needed to be exchanged within or between practices, the film had to be manually shipped.

Although PACS was originally designed for radiologists, its use has since expanded to include cardiology, as well as other specialties that rely on static or dynamic images for diagnostic and treatment purposes. PACS may have potential applications in any clinical field that routinely works with diagnostic images.

Who uses PACS?

PACS is used by a wide range of healthcare providers, including providers in the following specialties:

  • Radiology
  • Cardiology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Women’s Health
  • Oncology
  • Pulmonology
  • Vascular
  • Urgent Care
  • Education

Examples of PACS applications in healthcare

PACS is frequently used by radiologists and cardiologists to upload and store patient images on the cloud, where they can be accessed from any secure location. Patients with serious or progressive medical conditions need to be monitored and assessed over time, making image storage, security, and accessibility crucial.

For instance, if a patient presents with abnormal tissue growth in or around the lungs, a radiologist, oncologist, and pulmonologist will all require access to diagnostic images at various points in time. Having a single “source of truth” – a cloud-based, fully secure, easily accessible point of storage – allows these healthcare professionals to communicate and collaborate more efficiently and effectively.

PACS enables these healthcare providers to work with the same image files and “speak the same language,” an experience that is often lost when image files are converted or exchanged manually.

How are PACS images stored?

Modern PACS solutions integrate directly with diagnostic and image-capture devices, allowing for rapid import following capture. The protocol used to facilitate this exchange is DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine), a universal standard for the safe, secure exchange of healthcare information in virtual space. DICOM provides PACS and diagnostic devices a standardized way to interface. Beyond allowing systems to “talk to each other,” a standardized protocol helps clinicians and vendors comply with HIPAA and other regulatory requirements.

Components of PACS

A traditional PACS system integrates both software and hardware components. Once an image is captured from diagnostic equipment like a CT, MRI, or ultrasound, it’s transformed into the DICOM format, which is the globally recognized format for medical imaging and its associated data.

Rather than traditional on-premises server solutions, cloud-based PACS archive this data in a safeguarded, remote location. This helps health systems scale their storage solution as their needs evolve. It also helps them avoid local system breakdowns while ensuring protected access through password authentication.

The shift to cloud-based PACS also removes manual management, retrieval, or transport of physical films, saving time and effort.

UltraLinQ’s PACS solution takes advantage of this cloud technology to offer cutting-edge technical capabilities that facilitate seamless collaboration, rapid image exchange, and secure data storage. Our cloud-based PACS solution uses the DICOM protocol to ensure compatibility with a wide range of diagnostic and image-capture devices, simplifying the process of importing images immediately after capture.

At UltraLinQ, we understand the importance of data security and compliance with healthcare regulations, including HIPAA. Our PACS solution employs advanced encryption and security protocols to protect patient data from unauthorized access or breaches, offering medical professionals peace of mind when it comes to image storage and transmission.

How does PACS change day-to-day workflow?

PACS streamlines day-to-day workflow in multiple healthcare environments, such as radiology, cardiology, oncology, and other specialized clinics, as well as in emergency rooms or other generalized points of care. The primary benefits to clinical workflows include faster image uploading, acquisition, exchange, and mark-up, reducing manual, administrative labor and freeing up time for fundamental patient care.

Benefits of PACS for medical centers and healthcare systems

PACS helps medical centers and healthcare systems improve patient care, save time, make effective use of resources, and improve operating margins in the process. Spending less time on rote work, including image file management, allows clinicians to increase the quality and quantity of patient time. The strong reliability of modern systems, such as cloud-based PACS, also increases the efficiency of capital expenditures by facilitating improved collaboration with less downtime.

Benefits of PACS for medical professionals

For medical professionals, PACS removes a key obstacle standing between them and their patients. Most clinicians prefer to focus on the patient and their condition, not the technology that makes it possible. By increasing the storage speed, reliability, and accessibility of images, healthcare providers can direct more attention to the nuances and key details of a patient’s condition, strengthening the patient-provider relationship and helping them do their best work.

Benefits of PACS for patients

Although they may not be fully aware of every detail, patients benefit when their care providers use PACS for medical imaging. Patients are very concerned with their condition, treatment plan, and potential outcomes. Consequently, they value speed, responsiveness, and attention to detail throughout their care experience. When care providers can accelerate exclusive and collaborative care using PACS, patients feel more confident and secure in their provider and system of choice.

What is cloud-based PACS?

Cloud-based PACS is any PACS solution that stores its image data on the cloud instead of in on-premise server systems.

Advantages of cloud-based PACS

Operating a PACS solution from the cloud offers several tangible advantages over traditional, on-premises solutions:

  • Security & Reliability: Cloud servers are operated by the most well-resourced and modernized server providers in the world, including AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and more. A vast amount of resources are placed in security & reliability. A wide array of fail-safes, redundancies, encryption methods, and physical shields are used to protect client data, which represents the core pillar of modern business and finance.
  • Collaboration: Because providers can access cloud-stored images from practically any secure location, collaboration becomes more intuitive, flexible, and accommodating for healthcare professionals.
  • Compliance: The cloud server providers that manage healthcare information design their systems to be fully compliant with HIPAA and other standards. Limiting liability is crucial for both the customer and service provider.
  • Scalability & Future-Proofing: Cloud systems are highly scalable, automatically increasing or decreasing workload – and the physical server activity required to power it – based on real-world, real-time needs. By contrast, on-prem server systems need to be manually adjusted based on active workloads, leading to potential periods of “too much hardware, not enough workload” and subsequent waste of capital expenditures. Additionally, as cloud service providers develop and implement next-generation efficiency, security, and scalability solutions, clients using cloud-based systems stand to benefit. This is especially true in the era of AI/ML, where cloud systems are poised to learn and evolve at breakneck speeds.

Particular use cases for cloud PACS

PACS platforms generally allow for easier, more efficient, and value-added image management. Although a radiology clinic may use other systems that include image storage and management, integrating a PACS module can make image manipulation and sharing faster and easier within the broader clinical workflow.

If your radiology clinic exists as part of a larger system – such as a hospital or academic institution – it’s likely that your solution will need to integrate with a master-level solution spanning multiple departments, such as an EHR. In this case, high-level system architecture and patient record are likely determined by your organization’s governance structure, and it’s likely that you already use DICOM as your file management standard. Here, you may be better off requesting specific additions that meet your needs, such as PACS for image management.

Main providers of cloud PACS

  • UltraLinQ: Designed from the ground up for cloud-based PACS, UltraLinq is a single, comprehensive cloud-PACS platform that streamlines all healthcare imaging and data requirements. UltraLinq is FDA and HIPAA compliant. Distinguishing features include:
    • (Coming Soon) UltraLinq+ Diagnostic DICOM viewer, including a wide range of imaging modalities for all medical specialties – such as CR, DX, CT, MR, US – as well as non-imaging files, including ECG and PDF.
    • Robust library of over 1000 reporting worksheets mapped to every modality, allowing clinical and diagnostic information to be auto-populated.
    • Real-time, cross-practice and cross-functional collaboration tools to accelerate collaborative care.
  • Ambra/Intelerad: Ambra’s healthcare PACS solution, IntelePACS, handles all DICOM modalities, including MR, CT, PET, CR, US, and MG. IntelePACS is FDA & HIPAA compliant. Distinguishing features include:
    • Non-DICOM imaging stored side-by-side with DICOM for a holistic view of all patient imaging.
    • Cloud Vendor Neutral Archive that eliminates CDs and VPNs by consolidating imaging systems into one scalable cloud repository.
    • Instant access to secondary versions of medical images and priors if primary data becomes unavailable.
  • Core Sound Imaging: Core Sound Imaging’s PACS solution, Studycast, is a comprehensive imaging workflow solution accessible from any Internet-connected device. Studycast is FDA & HIPAA compliant. Distinguishing features include:
    • Simultaneous viewing of between two and four images for rapid diagnostic comparison.
    • Reports designed for ICAEL, IAC, ASNC, and ASE requirements.
    • Auto BSA indexing with BSA- and gender-specific normal values.

PACS integration with other healthcare systems

  • HIS: PACS integrates effectively into Health Information Systems, high-level systems that typically govern workflows, data management, communications, and system security for large-scale healthcare environments, such as hospitals and multi-location practices.
  • RIS: PACS also integrates effectively with Radiology Information Systems [link to past blog], workflow solutions designed specifically for radiology practices or clinics within a larger hospital environment.
  • EMR: Crucially, PACS solutions are designed to exchange information with Electronic Medical Records, the primary means of recording a patient’s complete medical history in our modernized healthcare ecosystem. With the correct permissions enabled, PACS solutions can read and write EMR data, adding images and notes to a patient’s core record, as well as retrieving relevant image files and associated data.

Role of PACS for healthcare systems of the future

In the future, it is likely that cloud-based PACS will become the gold standard of image storage and communication for modernized healthcare systems worldwide. The ease, efficiency, scalability, cost-effectiveness, and collaborative value of cloud-based PACS makes it an attractive option for healthcare organizations of any size in any location, from large hospital networks to private practices, in urban or rural environments.

Best practices for PACS implementation and management

Our technical capabilities extend beyond data security. UltraLinQ’s PACS solution is designed with the complete user experience in mind, offering an intuitive interface that allows healthcare providers to quickly upload, retrieve, and share diagnostic images.

By allowing remote access to the UltraLinQ platform, medical professionals can collaborate and consult with colleagues anytime, anywhere, enhancing the efficiency of patient care.

Our cloud based PACS also integrates seamlessly with existing healthcare systems, allowing for secure communication of images and files from UltraLinQ to connected systems in the hospital and clinical landscape.

Which imaging modalities does PACS use?

X-ray plain film (PF), Digital X-ray (DX), Computed tomography (CT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Endoscopy (ES), Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Ultrasound (US), Visible light photography (VL), and more.

Does ultrasound use PACS?

Yes, ultrasound imaging is capable of being imported into, and managed in, PACS solutions.

Why are PACS important in radiology?

Radiology relies heavily on physical and digital x-rays to identify abnormalities and diagnose serious conditions. As a result, it is crucial that radiology professionals have the ability to quickly and easily upload, access, and share images.

Is PACS only for radiology?

No. PACS is used in radiology, cardiology, ophthalmology, and a variety of other clinical areas where image storage and retrieval is required.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of PACS in radiology?

The primary advantages of PACS include faster and easier sharing of image files within or between clinics, as well as the value of digital storage as a form of redundancy or fail-safe.

The primary disadvantage of PACS is the relative complexity of integrating a system with diverse and disparate forms of healthcare technology, such as imaging devices, workflow systems, EMRs, and more. Fortunately, modern PACS providers, such as UltraLinq, excel at making the onboarding and integration process as seamless and painless as possible.

Are there any specific regulatory compliance requirements that healthcare organizations need to consider when adopting a PACS system?

A healthcare organization must always keep the privacy and security of patient data in mind when adopting a PACS (or any other healthcare) solution. Compliance with HIPAA is essential and mandatory, and the chosen solution’s vendor should also be fully versed in the latest practices, protocols, and mandates associated with cloud and general cybersecurity.

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