From the January/February issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
By Don Dennison
Radiology information systems (RIS) have played an important role in the transformation of departmental operations from paper to digital.
As with other applications, the market has evolved, and industry has adapted their solutions. Health providers today have options, but the market is increasingly being divided into two primary approaches — one for health systems, and one for groups, like radiologist reading groups, serving smaller health providers.
How we got here
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The advent of RIS gave healthcare organizations, and specifically departmental leaders, insight and tools to effectively manage their operations. Predating picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), RIS managed human resources, patient records, finances, and other elements to provide significant productivity and quality improvements for hospitals, staff, and patients.
During a significant growth period that saw several mature solutions, installed independently of hospital information systems (HIS) and interfacing through HL7 messages, PACS, with its digital images, was introduced, leading to further benefits.
It wasn’t long before the push began for a combined RIS-PACS solution. At the time, it made a lot of sense. Both systems have a patient and exam database table. Both have HL7 interfaces for patients, orders, and results. Both must manage users. And managing the complete life cycle of an imaging procedure in one system — from order placement, through scheduling, exam protocoling, image acquisition, exam quality control, reading, and results management — promised new opportunities for quality and productivity, with lower costs and less complexity.
Industry responded and companies providing independent RIS solutions were acquired by PACS vendors. Other PACS vendors set out to develop a RIS-PACS solution themselves.
As this convergence was occurring and solutions emerging, something happened: the adoption of the EMR with an embedded RIS module.
RIS in today’s consolidated healthcare enterprise
The rapid and widespread adoption of a shared EMR across a multi-hospital enterprise is often attributed to the incentives provided in the HITECH Act, at least in the U.S. But the operational and financial benefits of using one system to manage records and work tasks, and standardizing operations and measures across facilities, has led to adoption of this approach in other geographic markets as well.
The shift from an independently deployed RIS solution to one provided by the EMR has provided several benefits, with some tradeoffs. It has also resulted in a shift of control. Healthcare providers have reported advantages including: