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A Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) is used in digital radiography to manage the storage, retrieval, distribution and presentation of DICOM images (i.e., X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans). A picture archiving and communication system is often used in conjunction with a Radiology Information System (RIS) to efficiently execute the radiology workflow.
The picture archiving and communications systems market is fairly large and complex. There are a number of software companies and medical device manufacturing companies developing PACS for all sizes of medical organizations and all types of specialists. The result is a market that is fragmented and potentially confusing to buyers. We’ve assembled this guide of the PACS market to help buyers know where to begin their initial research and comparison.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then picture archiving and communications systems may give the Library of Congress a run for their money. PACS programs are used in digital radiography to store, manipulate, and distribute images. The universal standard format for these images is DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine), and they may include X-Rays, MRIs, CAT scans, or ultrasounds.
A PACS consists of four major components: the image modality such as MRI or CT, the network by which images and patient information are securely transmitted, the individual client workstations for viewing images, and a database for storing image data. Web-based or web-enabled systems will allow for the distribution of image data across a distributed network of provider organizations.
Picture archiving and communications systems are often implemented as standalone systems. They may be sold along with an imaging device by vendors such as GE or Philips, or may be sold separately by software vendors. PACS will often need to be integrated with electronic medical records (EMR) systems, but these are rarely sold together since buyer needs vary so much and the timeframes for purchasing can be very different. Finally, radiology centers often purchase PACS integrated with radiology information systems (RIS) to have one integrated package to manage images and corresponding clinical patient data.
Before you can evaluate picture archiving and communications systems, you’ll need to know what type of buyer you are. We have found that almost all buyers fall into one of the following three categories:
While the picture archiving and communications systems landscape is highly fragmented and may at first appear confusing, the available solutions are differentiated by their appeal to the different buyer types.
|This type of buyer...||Should evaluate these systems|
|Hospitals||GE, McKesson, Philips|
|Mid-sized and large outpatient practices||Sage Intergy, GE, Medics PACS|
|Radiology Centers||Ingenix, Sage Intergy, Medics PACS|
These trends should be considered as you select a product and vendor.
PACS are designed to benefit both clinical and administrative staff. Users should expect the following benefits when adopting a formal PACS:
As with all technology, buyers should be aware of the potential issues, costs, and return on investment as well. Buyers will want to make sure that their selected PACS vendor offers necessary data backup and encryption technologies. The critical metric for any PACS system is that the costs to store, review, and retrieve images go down. The costs associated with these tasks can be far-reaching, ranging from the staff required for repetitive tasks of putting away and pulling images, the time spent manually reviewing series of images, and the direct costs of paper, shelving, and other materials required to store physical images. Buyers should also expect to improve their ability to properly assess images and draw conclusions due to image viewing and annotation tools built into most PACS.