A picture is worth a thousand lives – or more

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With an aging population and increased incidence of different types of cancer, early detection and treatment of this silent killer is critical. And while managing and presenting vast amounts of information is a challenge in any industry, in healthcare, it can make the difference between life and death – literally.

Diagnostic Imaging (DI) specifically, plays a crucial role in both the diagnosis and treatment planning areas of patient care – without it, diagnosis is near impossible and treatment becomes a matter of guesswork. As a result, over the past decade, Canadian hospitals have been implementing Information Technologies (IT) such as Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) as a means to help manage the increasing volume and complexity of imaging exams. Replacing hard-copy based medical images, PACS offers a more effective and more efficient way of storing, managing, sharing and viewing patient images, and is a foundation to eHealth.

However, with new, faster and more complex modalities and imaging protocols, as well as a growing physician shortage, caregivers need a powerful yet simple tool to logically present required information, efficiently. Unlike in the film-based imaging world, PACS provides immediate and secure computer-based access to all imaging exams. For patient image comparison purposes, advanced visualization tools such as 3D imaging, image registration and fusion are also available.

For cancer treatment specifically, the ability for all required caregivers to view any relevant imaging exams and access clinical tools to help visualize specific anatomy, can dictate treatment success. For example, the ability to easily access multiple prior exams for the same patient simultaneously can help determine the location of a tumour, or changes in size or shape, and can assist in the development and tracking of individual treatment plans.

The Carlo Fidani Peel Regional Cancer Centre at The Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ontario has used PACS solutions for the last eight years. Recently moving the entire hospital from a film-based to a 100 per cent digital environment, Dr. Stephen Florence, Radiologist at The Credit Valley Hospital, says the PACS solution has facilitated the growing volume of patients more efficiently than they could before.

“The PACS solution allows our oncologists to view patient images instantaneously and process reports in real-time. A decade ago, the report turnaround time could take up to a week, whereas today, patients can be booked for follow-up appointments on the same day. Not only are we able to read a larger number of cases, but we’re doing it in the same amount of time – which creates a dramatic improvement on the level of patient care we deliver,” said Dr. Florence.

As diseases like cancer become more sophisticated, healthcare technologies are also constantly evolving. Newer technologies such as Virtual Colonoscopy that are enabled by faster modalities such as Computed Tomography (CT), offer promise in the area of easier, faster and more comfortable screening for colon polyps and tumours. Additionally, Virtual Colonoscopy provides caregivers with a cost and clinically effective alternative to the traditionally uncomfortable optical colonoscopy.

Early detection of cancer is key to the success of helping patients beat the disease, but using diagnostic imaging to identify the problem is only one piece of puzzle. The next step is to connect the pieces together so that a patient’s care isn’t limited by location. The true value of PACS and eHealth results from system integration which provides greater visibility into a patient’s entire medical history, including previous diagnostic exams, medications and history of illness or disease. This ensures that doctors will always have a complete and accurate view of each patient and will be supported by the technologies that allow them to deliver the best care in the most efficient manner.

Although, there are still challenges to overcome, great strides have been made over the past few years. The rapid implementation of PACS in hospitals and clinics across Canada is helping to improve early detection rates and most importantly, treatment success.