For healthcare, this may be the most important year of the decade. Take your pick of reasons: HIPAA, reimbursement challenges and breakthroughs, penalty fees for improperly filed Medicare claims — the list of instigators is way too long to stack up here. But one is guaranteed to change everything forever: You can bet that 2003 is the year healthcare providers substitute technology for missing workers, and leverage it to maximize productivity of those who remain.

That isn’t mere conjecture. That’s a certified official “Top 10 Healthcare Prediction for 2003” from Forrester Research, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.). Among the technologies leading the charge are picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and digital radiography (DR). With radiology staffing shortages now at critical mass, PACS plus DR equal a life raft for overtaxed hospitals.

“Typically, PACS are going into 200-bed hospitals and larger that are maxed out on efficiency,” says Eric Mahler, marketing manager for Inturis for Radiology (PACS) at Philips Medical Systems (Bothell, Wash.). “They need to do something to be more productive. They have more patients than they can possibly handle. You can address that either by adding techs or by adding technology.”

Given the national dearth of techs, we pick Door Number 2. DR reduces exam times some 60 percent over CR and film-based radiography, because all the DR technologist has to do is position the patient, shoot the image, and repeat as necessary. DR eliminates cassette handling and film processing in x-ray acquisition, while PACS automates the image management process.

The bottom line on efficiency, says Mahler, is “how fast can you get the patient in the room and out of the room? If you’re having to deal with printing and distributing films, you’re really killing the efficiencies. We have customers who are doing more than 300 patients a day with our DR systems.”

No film. No darkrooms. No timewasting. It all sounds a little too perfect. Is there a downside?

A little bit, says Deborah Imling, marketing manager for radiology products at Philips. “Moneywise, it is a fairly large investment to get both DR and PACS. But at some hospitals, all their other modalities are digital except for x-ray, and they’re really forced into getting DR.”

Please refer to the April 2003 issue for the complete story. For information on article reprints, contact Martin St. Denis