Patient Experience: Why Effective Image Sharing Matters

eHealth Technologies blog: Gary Larson, Executive Vice President & General Manager, HIE Solutions, eHealth Technologies

Like many of you, I occasionally find myself at a gathering of friends or family where I am asked what I do by people who have little or no experience with the healthcare or healthcare IT industry. Unlike those among us who have occupations that are the subject of television shows – physicians, attorneys, police detectives and the like – my explanation tends to be convoluted and border on being “geeky.” “We provide secure hosted services for Health Information Exchanges, ACOs and clinical information networks that enable interoperability for DICOM and other forms of medical images….” is about a far as I get before eyes glaze over.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that there is a much simpler and more effective way to share what we do at eHealth Technologies by relating it to one experience nearly all of us have in common. Each of us has been a patient at one time or another. And while I sincerely hope it is not often the case, many of us have endured the frightening patient experience of dealing with a life-threatening medical condition such as cancer, a stroke or heart disease at one time or another. Experiences such as these can reverberate in our memories for a lifetime; and years later will typically be remembered either extremely positively or very negatively depending on the level of care coordination we experienced.

As we recognize Patient Experience Week, an annual event that acknowledges how those who work in the healthcare industry can impact patient experiences each and every day, I would like to further reflect on the very real impact that our medical image sharing services have on the patient experience.

Here are just some of the ways that the lack of access to medical images can adversely affect the patient experience:

  • Patients are forced to retrieve their own prior imaging studies. Medical imaging exams – brain CTs for suspected stroke, MRIs for injured joints, PET scans diagnosing cancer – will invariably be employed along with more traditional lab tests to diagnose and treat the most severe medical conditions. Furthermore, while text-based lab tests can in general be readily shared between primary care physicians, specialists, surgeons and the like, more often than not it is patients who are asked to trek across town or even across the county, to a hospital or imaging center in order to retrieve CDs of images and deliver them to the next care provider in the chain for treatment.
  • Patients are also required to reschedule appointments if past imaging studies cannot be retrieved. After suffering a severe back injury which necessitated an MRI at the imaging center across town, an elderly patient returns to their orthopedic surgeon’s office to identify and begin the next steps in a care plan. However, without access to images little can be accomplished for these situations. The patient may have forgotten to bring the CDs with him or her, or as is also often the case the imaging center failed to send them over. At this stage the only likely recourse would be to reschedule the appointment, wasting valuable clinician time and further delaying treatment for a debilitating condition by days or even weeks.
  • Patients must repeat tests they have already had done. When previous imaging studies can’t be located or retrieved, it is not unusual that patients are asked to have another imaging scan performed, not only causing a scheduling inconvenience for all concerned, but also racking up unnecessary costs of $1,000 or more that adds to our burgeoning healthcare costs. Worse yet, some of the most common imaging study types such as Computed Tomography and X-Rays expose patients to seriously high doses of radiation – all ultimately unnecessary.

These are just a few of the patient experiences that add to our burden at the very point in time when we are most vulnerable. These are the patient experiences that image-enabled HIEs and clinical information networks can eliminate more effectively than any other alternative.

This year for Patient Experience Week – not just at our next neighborhood party but each and every day – we at eHealth Technologies promise to maintain a keen focus on how our solutions and services impact the patient experience. One way we do that is by assuring that medical images – some of the most vital elements of our medical records – are available when and where needed; so that patients receive the care they need and deserve, especially at these most critical times in their lives.