Turning medical data into actionable knowledge

Advances in imaging technologies are giving physicians unprecedented insights into disease states, but fragmented and siloed information technology systems make it difficult to provide the personalized, coordinated care that patients expect.

In the field of medical imaging, health care providers began replacing radiographic films with digital images stored in a picture and archiving communication system (PACS) in the 1980s. As this wave of digitization progressed, individual departments—ranging from cardiology to pathology to nuclear medicine, orthopedics, and beyond—began acquiring their own, distinct IT solutions.

PACS remains an indispensable tool for viewing and interpreting imaging results, but leading health care providers are now beginning to move beyond PACS. The new paradigm brings data from multiple medical specialties together into a single platform, with a single user interface that strives to provide a holistic understanding of the patient and facilitate clinical reporting. By connecting data from multiple specialties and enabling secure and efficient access to relevant patient data, advanced information technology platforms can enhance patient care, simplify workflows for clinicians, and reduce costs for health care organizations. This organizes data around patients, rather than clinical departments.

Meeting patient expectations

Health care providers generate an enormous volume of data. Today, nearly one-third of the world’s data volume is generated by the health care industry. The growth in health care data outpaces media and entertainment, whose data is expanding at a 25% compound annual growth rate ,compared to the 36% rate for health care data. This makes the need for a comprehensive health care data management systems increasingly urgent.

The volume of health care industry data is only part of the challenge. Different data types stored in different formats create an additional hurdle to the efficient storage, retrieval, and sharing of clinically important patient data.

PACS was designed to view and store data in the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standard, and a process known as “DICOM-wrapping” is used for PACS to provide access to patient information stored in PDF, MP4, and other file formats. In addition to adding additional steps that impede efficient workflow, DICOM-wrapping makes it difficult for clinicians to work with a file in its native format. PACS users are given what is essentially a screen shot of an Excel file, which makes it impossible to use the data analysis features in the Excel software.

With an open image and data management (IDM) system coupled with an intuitive reading and reporting workspace, patient data can be consolidated in one location instead of in multiple data silos, providing clinicians with the information they need to provide the highest level of patient-centered care. In a 2017 survey by health insurance company Humana, its patients said they aren’t interested in the details of health care IT, but are nearly unanimous when it comes to their expectations, with 97% of patients saying that their health care providers should have access to their complete medical history.

Adapting to clinical needs

To meet patient expectations and needs, health care IT seeks to meet the needs of health care providers and systems by offering flexibility—both in its initial setup and in its capacity to scale to meet evolving organizational demands.

A modular architecture enables health care providers and systems to tailor their system to their specific needs. Depending on clinical needs, health care providers can integrate specialist applications for reading and reporting, AI-powered functionalities, advanced visualization, and third-party tools. The best systems are scalable, so that they can grow as an organization grows, with the ability to flexibly scale hardware by expanding the number of servers and storage capacity.

A simple, unified UI enables a quick learning curve across the organization, while the adoption of a single enterprise system helps reduce IT costs by enabling the consolidation and integration of previously distinct systems. Through password-protected data transfers, these systems can also facilitate communication with patients.

Many into one

One solution to the challenges and opportunities created by the growing volume of medical data is Siemens Healthineers’ Syngo Carbon Core. It combines two elements: Syngo Carbon Space is a front-end workspace for reporting and routine reading. On the back end is Syngo Carbon IDM, a powerful and flexible IDM system. By combining these two elements, Syngo Carbon Core allows health care providers to manage data around patients, not departments.

Syngo Carbon Space brings imaging data, diagnostic software elements, and clinical tools together into a single, intuitive workspace for both routine and more complex cases. Customizable layouts allow clinicians to tailor their routine reader to their needs and preferences, with workflow optimization tools that maximize efficiency. In addition, organizations have the flexibility to use editable structured reporting templates or free format reports. The translation of findings into coded and discrete data help specialists generate patient-centered reports that help guide clinical decision-making. Through the workspace, clinicians can also directly access Syngo Carbon’s Advanced Visualization, which incorporates additional tools and AI-powered applications, without having to switch to another application.

On the back end of Syngo Carbon Core, robust IDM consolidates patient data and seamlessly integrates systems across an enterprise. Its open design enables the integration of existing DICOM Long Term Archives (LTAs), including legacy PACS systems. All data is kept in its native format—meaning that a PDF remains a PDF, for example—to ensure interoperability.

The growing volume of data generated in modern health care environments creates challenges, but also presents tremendous opportunities for delivering high-quality, personalized medicine. With comprehensive health care data management systems, health care providers can turn data into a strategic asset for their organizations and their patients.

This content was produced by Siemens Healthineers. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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