Southwestern Ontario hospitals pilot shared digital imaging service

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Imagine being able to access the same digital diagnostic images online at different hospitals. This is the shared vision of all the hospitals in Southwestern Ontario and one that will soon begin to become a reality for the eight member hospitals of the Thames Valley Hospital Planning Partnership (TVHPP) This important development has come about thanks to the opportunity to work with Canada Health Infoway (Infoway), the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and a significant investment of time and resources on the part of the participating hospitals.

In terms of Canada Health Infoway (Infoway)’s involvement, it was formed in 2000 to strengthen the infrastructure that improves access to health care. At the core of this infrastructure is the goal of developing an electronic health record that will be accessible anywhere in Canada. Online viewing of diagnostic images is one of the key building blocks to an electronic health record. Infoway sees a shared services approach such as the one being developed in Southwestern Ontario as addressing the challenge of providing fast and affordable access for smaller hospitals and clinics that would otherwise not be able to access this technology.

What makes Southwestern Ontario’s project unique is that it brings together eight separate hospitals, making it the first shared services model of this scale in Canada. In December 2002, the Thames Valley Hospital Planning Partnership (TVHPP) began planning for the implementation of the Digital Imaging Network project. By December 2003 the plan was finalized and approved. The Thames Valley implementation phase, expected to take 24 months, began in January 2004.

Once the pilot phase of this project is complete, the next step is to implement shared digital imaging at all 40 Southwestern Ontario hospital sites. In the future the partnership model pioneered by Southwestern Ontario hospitals is expected to be adapted and replicated in other regions in Canada.

For on-going information about the status of this project visit: www.lhsc.on.ca/isan/imaging/home.htm

Background information about a shared digital imaging system

Images are shared among the hospitals through the Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) that captures, stores, and sends images such as x-rays and CT scans using digital technology. This is the same filmless technology used in digital cameras. PACS enables health care providers, at any of the facilities involved in the pilot, to view a patient’s test images online. Other advantages to sharing digital images include:

  • Providing care closer to home for patients;
  • Minimizing procedure duplication;
  • Reducing patient transfers;
  • Improving order status tracking;
  • Reducing storage requirements; and,
  • Improving productivity.

Physicians already using this technology are enthusiastic about the project because they can view images from various locations- including their homes. ER physicians and surgeons who request images can now receive and view the images and reports from nuclear medicine physicians and radiologists right on their computers.

Steps being taken to ensure the privacy of patient information is protected are fully compliant with federal and provincial privacy legislation.