Health information exchanges provide perhaps the very best framework for sharing medical images. And because of its efficiency, HIE image sharing is superior to stand-alone cloud image sharing networks. Likewise, image exchange through HIEs can save tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in operational costs for imaging provider organizations at hospitals and imaging centers.
Although many of the leading HIEs have successfully incorporated medical image sharing as a service offering, a significant portion of the healthcare provider community remains hesitant to move forward, and some HIEs continue to de-prioritize image sharing in favor of other programs.
One possible way to move this needle so to speak is to more clearly articulate the role of medical image sharing in the diagnosis and treatment of our most severe, life-threatening conditions. According to the CDC, the top five causes of death in the US in 2019 were:
- Heart Disease: 659,041 deaths
- Cancer: 599,601 deaths
- Accidents: 173,040 deaths
- Chronic lower respiratory disease: 156,979 deaths
- Stroke: 150,009 deaths
- For heart disease, imaging modalities such as EKG/ECG, Echocardiography, Coronary Angiography & Cardiac Catheterization, Chest x-rays and Cardiac MRI are vital for diagnosis as well as ongoing treatment, frequently requiring collaboration across multiple disciplines, all of which need access to patient records including imaging.
- Cancer diagnosis and treatment almost always requires extensive use of x-ray, CT, Mammography, Ultrasound, MRI, PET and Nuclear Medicine, and ready access to historical prior imaging from wherever it may reside is essential to track critical parameters such as tumor progression.
- Diagnosing and treating trauma cases frequently requires imaging such as x-ray and CT as a first order of business and can occur at any time of the day or night, at any location large or small. This means that finding a way to give qualified healthcare personnel access to images on an emergent basis can often mean the difference between life and death.
- Chronic lower respiratory disease diagnosis and treatment also relies heavily if not primarily on medical imaging such as chest x-rays and CT imaging, and also requires collaboration across disciplines and healthcare provider organizations.
- And finally, perhaps more than any of the above, rapid diagnosis and treatment planning for stroke patients not only requires that imaging studies such as CT Angiography, CT Perfusion, Catheter Angiography, MRA, Transcranial Doppler and Carotid Ultrasound be performed, but the key to a successful outcome often rests with how quickly those emergent images can be made available to specialists such as neurologists and other stroke specialists since “time is brain” in treating stroke.
There is clearly a common thread across all leading causes of death, where HIEs have an opportunity to make a dramatic impact for the good. For each of these devastating conditions, not only is performing medical imaging exams unquestionably necessary, but sharing and exchanging those images across the care community must also occur in order to assure the best possible outcomes, including avoiding patient deaths whenever possible. Given that we already know HIEs have the best platform to facilitate image sharing, and given that we already know medical image sharing can be easily integrated into health information exchange platforms, our HIE community is in a prime position to truly make a difference.