WellStar Health System Goes Digital and Saves Big!

By Aine Cryts

WellStar Health System, which has an expected annual exam volume of 750,000, relies on Agfa?s PACS and will implement its RIS by year-end.

WellStar Health System, a world-class, not-for-profit institution devoted to providing Atlanta’s growing community with the best technology, resources, and education, entered the PACS arena in 2005 when the organization went completely digital—with the exception of mammography—with Agfa PACS.

In 2007, WellStar Health System, which rounds out its expertise with more than 400 physicians and advanced practitioners, five urgent care facilities, and 15 imaging centers, extended digital capabilities to its mammography services.

Since 2005, WellStar Health System has witnessed a dramatic reduction in film and associated costs—to the tune of $1.3 million. According to Carol Scoggins, executive director of diagnostic outreach, her health care organization saw water and sewage issues related to film go away, while witnessing the elimination of 55 film processors.

WellStar Health System, which serves a substantial number of patients in rural communities, is now able to extend the expertise of its large group of radiologists—many of whom are subspecialists—to the rural community.

According to Scoggins, before WellStar Health System’s transition to Agfa PACS, a patient might go to a facility for a head CT, but that facility had no neuroradiologist physically on site to interpret their images, which meant inevitable delays until a neuroradiologist was available or exams could be sent by courier to an available neuroradiologist at another facility.

“Today, with Agfa PACS, we’re able to route subspecialty exams to subspecialists,” said Scoggins, who notes that the transition to PACS allowed her organization to fully get engaged with cardiac CT, 3D labs, CTA/MRA, and other complex procedures that are proving essential to the community her health system serves.

Scoggins and her colleagues at WellStar Health Systems, which will go live on Agfa RIS in the fourth quarter of 2011, looked at quite a few vendors during their discovery process. She says that her organization decided to partner with Agfa “because its PACS and RIS solutions are so customizable.”

“Agfa provides multiple options with their RIS and PACS solutions,” said Scoggins, who notes that Agfa will pull in their service and support organization to determine ways to maximize her organization’s workflow. Often, that means Agfa’s ability to customize fields—in a way that other vendors are unable to do, according to Scoggins.

Because of the functionality provided by Agfa PACS, technologists at WellStar Health System, which has an expected annual exam volume of 750,000, have a process where they can perform quality control checks on images before those images are populated in radiologists’ worklists.

“That quality control process is important to ensuring that all of the images in a series are there,” said Scoggins who wants to maximize radiologists’ time by providing them with all of the images they need to provide a diagnosis in a timely manner.

Radiologists’ efficiency and report turnaround time are very important to Scoggins, who notes that, with Agfa PACS, all referring physicians have access to a portal where they can check on the status of their patients’ images.

Because of the customization available in Agfa’s PACS and RIS solutions, Scoggins feels she’s not locked into an out-of-the-box solution. In fact, she has found that whenever there has been a workflow concern, Agfa provides her with whatever resources she needs—whether that’s by providing her with an on-site resource or by conference call—to ensure that her questions are resolved quickly.

Agfa’s commitment to advancing technology—namely, with its IMPAX Data Center Viewer powered by XERO, which provides a “zero footprint” medical image and reporter viewer—is yet another reason Scoggins is excited about her partnership with the company going forward.

Growing Strong with the Right PACS

By Aine Cryts

Robb Kolb, Executive Vice President, The Radiology Group

The Radiology Group (TRG), which has its headquarters in Atlanta, provides 24/7 remote coverage with final reports by board-certified subspecialty radiologists, guaranteed stat and nonstat turnaround times, and complete management of radiology departments with placement of on-site radiologists, as required.

TRG can provide this level of service because of its fellowship-trained radiologists and Viztek’s Opal-RAD PACS, which, according to Viztek, provides digital radiology tools to achieve the most fully integrated patient database, imaging, and communications system available.

“Prior to Viztek’s Opal-RAD PACS, our technology was limiting our practice’s ability to grow. When we set out to find a PACS vendor, it was serious business—vital to the maintenance and growth of our business,” said Robb Kolb, executive vice president at TRG, which has an annual exam volume of 500,000.

TRG started to engage with Viztek about its PACS solution at the beginning of 2010—and Kolb acknowledges that his company presented a genuine challenge to Viztek: Since TRG’s previous PACS solution was outsourced, Viztek had to coordinate this PACS upgrade to the various sites for which TRG’s radiologists provided interpretation services.

Describing TRG as a national teleradiology company, Kolb says that the practice provides radiology interpretation services at its practice in the Atlanta area, as well as a teleradiology service 24 hours a day to practices around the country.

Viztek successfully converted TRG to their new PACS platform—without disruption to a single customer, says Kolb. Key to the success of the project, he says, was its team approach between Vitzek’s staff and TRG’s internal IT staff.

Today, TRG employs nine radiologists—and Kolb projects that the company will employ 12 radiologists by the second quarter of 2012. In order to keep TRG’s radiologists efficient, it was important that the practice’s PACS solution could deliver images quickly.

One example Kolb gives to illustrate the importance of speed of receipt of images is with PET CT. “There can be in excess of 1,000 images transmitted per study. Our old PACS system could be tied up with studies that large—in fact, a case that large could tie up all transmissions for 15 minutes to an hour or longer. With Viztek’s Opal-RAD PACS, we have those same image sets within minutes,” said Kolb.

Prioritization of exams is also very important for TRG’s radiologists, says Kolb. For example, Viztek’s Opal-RAD PACS’s worklists highlight for his practice’s radiologists the stat cases as well as the cases that are approaching the turnaround time arranged by agreement with individual clients. “Client needs vary greatly, and this automation enables radiologists to read the most critical and time-sensitive cases in order of priority from the list of exams they need to interpret,” he said.

According to Kolb, there were three key things his practice needed from its PACS provider: a PACS solution that would make their radiologists more efficient and enable them to interpret more exams, a PACS interface that was user friendly for radiologists and technologists, and a company that was going to grow with his practice as his practice grew.

“We felt that Viztek was going to field our recommendations,” said Kolb. “Viztek saw something in our practice that they were interested in. They’re looking for our feedback. Viztek has literally made more than 15 changes to the Opal-RAD PACS we use as a result of our feedback.”

Winthrop-University Hospital Looks to the Cloud

By Aine Cryts

Enrico (Rick) Perez, BS, RT, CRA, Administrative Director of Winthrop-University Hospital?s Department of Radiology.

When Winthrop-University Hospital, Mineola, NY, was looking for a new PACS solution, Rick Perez, RT, CRA, administrative director of the department of radiology, wasn’t considering a cloud-based solution.

But, back in 2008, Perez knew his radiology department’s then-PACS system was coming toward “end of life” and that would mean a lot of hardware and software upgrades. So, he was faced with this question: Do we just upgrade the system or should we consider replacing it?

According to Perez, the deal breakers for Winthrop-University Hospital, which has an annual exam volume of 180,000, were critical test results, peer review for teaching files, and total integration of the software. What was extremely important to Perez was that his radiologists wouldn’t have to sign off and sign on to different software solutions, which can have an impact on response time.

In essence, Perez was looking for one solution, from one vendor who would deal with any problems that came up.

With Carestream’s Vue eHealth RIS+PACS Service, Winthrop-University Hospital has fully featured image review, storage, and distribution throughout the enterprise, including delivering advanced reading tools to on-site or remote radiologists, according to Carestream. This solution also includes cloud-based archiving of patient data and imaging studies.

“Carestream’s cloud-based services provide technology obsolescence protection and can reduce costs by up to 30%. Health care facilities pay a per-study usage charge instead of investing in building, maintaining, and upgrading a large internal IT infrastructure,” said Robette Brooks, a Carestream spokesperson.

During the search for the right RIS/PACS solution for their facility, Perez ensured that he included the voices of many radiologists. “During site visits, we had radiologists from different specialties look at Carestream’s solution. We wanted our radiologists to have this experience on site so they could see the solution in action and work at the workstations and try them,” he said.

His department’s technologists are pretty adaptable, says Perez, who believes that the “future’s going to be a lot easier” for this team’s workflow, since technologists will have worklists devoted to patients, equipment, and modalities. He is excited about having everything in one system—instead of having separate RIS and PACS solutions from two different vendors.

Winthrop-University Hospital is implementing a cloud-based Carestream PACS because it offers affordable, predictable operating expenses that include ongoing technology refreshment.

After Perez and his team at Winthrop-University Hospital learned more about Carestream’s Vue eHealth RIS+PACS Service, they determined that there were some significant advantages to working with a much larger company—such as Carestream—which, because of its secure, HIPAA-compliant cloud-based solution, can take on the challenge of storing and archiving images and reports on behalf of Winthrop-University Hospital.

Because Carestream will be storing this data, Perez can look forward to reducing his operating budget over time. “With Carestream’s solution, I know exactly what it’s going to cost per study and can project my expenses going forward,” said Perez.

Facing the challenge of achieving “meaningful use” has also been top of mind for Perez and his colleagues at Winthrop-University Hospital. “We needed to ensure that the data we receive through our RIS/PACS solution can feed details into the medical record,” he said.

“The rubber will hit the road on day one—after we’ve done our job testing the system,” said Perez, but he is confident because of the due diligence he and his colleagues performed during site visits where he was able to spend time with people who were happy with their Carestream Vue eHealth RIS+PACS Service-driven workflow. Moreover, his hospital’s radiologists were able to speak with their peers at other facilities and learn about their experience with Care-stream’s solution.

Perez looks forward to implementing Carestream’s Vue eHealth RIS+PACS Service by the second quarter of 2012.