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Differences between PACS, RIS, CIS, DICOM: The Ultimate Guide

PACS, RIS, CIS & DICOM Definitions & Applications:

PACS - Picture Archiving and Communication System

  • A PACS platform allows healthcare practitioners to digitally store and retrieve images captured by healthcare imaging systems. By storing images on the cloud, PACS allows practitioners to access patient images anywhere and at any time.

Applications & Benefits

  • 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.

RIS - Radiology Information System

  • A RIS is a software system designed specifically for use in radiology clinics. Workflows, patient images, scheduling, billing, and other mission-critical information can be managed within the platform.

Applications & Benefits

  • RIS platforms offer radiology clinics a full suite of information systems and clinical workflow capabilities designed specifically for use in a radiology practice or hospital. Typically, radiology clinics benefit from having a RIS as their core IT system, with PACS and other functionality specific integrated as needed.

CIS - Clinical Information System

  • CIS platforms tend to focus on critical care environments, such as intensive care units (ICUs). Like the other platforms included on this list, a CIS can typically interface with other, more specific systems, such as PACS, RIS, and EHR (Electronic Health Records).

Applications & Benefits

  • Given their core design and intended purpose, CIS platforms benefit radiology teams working in a critical care environment. Similar to RIS, CIS can integrate extensively with PACS, EHR/EMR, and other systems that offer deeper control and functionality over images, patient records, and other specific types of health information.


  • DICOM is a standardized, universally-accepted file indexing system for the storage of images, records, and other digital files consisting of patient health information. DICOM architecture is designed for efficient, compliant, and secure file storage.

Applications & Benefits

  • As a file storage and indexing system aligned to universal security and compliance standards, DICOM plays a key role in many contemporary health systems. It is likely that any platform a radiology clinic adopts will leverage a DICOM storage solution to make file management easier in collaborative care environments.
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How To Choose The Best Solution For Your Radiology Workflow?

Clinic’s most urgent and high-value needs:

Choosing the best solution for your clinic’s radiology workflow depends on several factors. First, 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.


Smaller clinics, including private practices, may face more difficult decisions regarding which solutions to implement, as well as when to implement them. Generally, a smaller clinic can use multiple, integrated solutions – such as an RIS for primary structure and workflow, EHR/EMR for patient records, and PACS for image management – that individually excel at meeting their unique needs. Although an EHR or other master-level system might include more functionality out of the box, these types of systems are often calibrated for large healthcare organizations, offering less of the nuance and tailored functionality provided by individual vendors.


Ultimately, no matter your organization’s size, it is important to compile a list of your clinic’s most urgent and high-value needs, and work with vendors to learn about how their solutions address those needs and improve efficiency. A qualified vendor should be able to tell you, in clear terms, how their product or service will save you time, save you money, reduce errors, or otherwise generate value at different times post-deployment, including in the near, intermediate, and long terms.

Learn more about the right solution for your practice with our latest guide The Difference between PACS, RIS, CIS, DICOM: The Ultimate Guide to get even more insight to the questions below:

What is the difference between PACS and RIS?

PACS and RIS are different types of systems with different purposes and uses. A PACS platform focuses entirely on the management and sharing of patient image files, while RIS includes a wide range of functionalities designed specifically for radiology practices, including workflow management, billing, and more.

How does PACS work with RIS?

A PACS platform can integrate directly with an RIS, augmenting or replacing the RIS’ native image management capabilities. For instance, a radiology clinic might integrate a PACS module to make image upload, access, and chart integration easier within the broader RIS ecosystem, increasing efficiency at any point where image storing or pulling is required (such as chart management, outgoing referrals, collaborative care, and more).

What are the advantages of integrating PACS with RIS?

By integrating PACS with RIS, practitioners usually improve the efficiency of care by making their radiology image files more accessible, as well as making the manipulation of those files more intuitive. An RIS user interface is broad, and not designed specifically with image manipulation in mind: therefore, using a PACS to handle this component of clinical workflow makes tasks associated with image capture, storage, chart interfacing, and retrieval faster and easier.

What's the difference between PACS and DICOM?

As mentioned above, PACS is a specialized platform focusing on image management, while DICOM assists in the general storage and indexing of files containing medical information. However, because DICOM has established itself as an industry standard, a high quality PACS will be capable of storing and retrieving files housed in a DICOM system.


PACS is not an EHR, as it focuses specifically on the management of image files. However, since patient records often include diagnostic and other clinical images, PACS platforms are able to interface directly with EHR systems, adding or retrieving image files directly from patient records where integrations allow.

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