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Increased productivity and quality improvements make PACS worth the money for a Missouri hospital.

When Heartland Health in St. Joseph, MO, installed its integrated picture archiving and communication system, leaders at the 353-staffed-bed hospital didn't have to wait long to see results.

The hospital went 95% filmless on the PACS system's first day and saw an 80% drop in the amount of time that physicians had to wait for radiology test results—from up to one hour to mere minutes. The hospital also went from offering zero remote access to imaging to 100% remote access for the clinical staff.

The system has helped Heartland Health both increase productivity and reduce costs, says Helen Thompson, chief information officer. "When you talk about reducing your film use, you are also talking about driving down supply budgets. We've also seen premium space inside the facility where we would normally store film be returned to patient care," says Thompson.

Advanced planning allowed the hospital to avoid running out of server space to store the high-resolution images, Thompson says. Heartland uses an imaging compression system from vendor-partner Cerner Corp. to help make image storing manageable; one digital chest image alone can contain anywhere from 10 to 18 megabytes of data, let alone the hundreds of images taken on a daily basis. "At every point of care, the staff has access to everything from standard chest films to 64-slice CT images. Some images might be just two or three pictures, while others are thousands of pictures. We now have the ability to take very complex images and link them together and turn and view from them from many angles, which ensures that nothing is missed," says Thompson.

The most recent advancement with Heartland's PACS system is the addition of digital mammography. "We have integrated it with our PACS system along with a computer-aided clinical decision support tool that we run images through," says Thompson, adding that the tool puts markers on the digital image, which is then sent to the reviewing physician. "That is a relatively new tool for us and in the market."

The downside of PACS is a familiar one: The financial outlays can be hefty. But Thompson says investing in PACS has led to significant improvements in the hospital's clinical quality and safety that help offset those expenses. "The behind-the-scenes savings we have achieved at the end of the day have helped us tremendously toward reducing the costs while driving up safety and quality."

—Kathyrn Mackenzie

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