Enterprise Imaging Industry State-of-the-Art

Based on discussions with colleagues and our clients, Enterprise Imaging is becoming an integral part of U.S. Hospital IT Consolidated Clinical Record strategies.

HIMSS-SIIM Enterprise Imaging Workgroup‘s current working definition of Enterprise Imaging is as following:

  • Diagnostic Imaging – Encompassing traditional diagnostic imaging disciplines such as Radiology and Cardiology
  • Procedural Imaging – Including images that are acquired for diagnosis or clinical documentation purposes (such as visible light photos, point-of-care ultrasound)
  • Evidence Imaging – Including images and/or videos that are acquired for clinical documentation purposes (for example, scope videos, computer aided detection)
  • Image-based Clinical Reports – Documentation that includes or entirely consists of images (for example, Pulmonary Functional Test (PFT) report, multi-media pathology report)

Despite the attention from vendors, industry focus, and provider demand, this market space is still in its early stages of development. There are two main reasons: 1) the scope of the problem domain is still being defined; and 2) the vendor community is still working out the best practices and optimal technical approaches.

Moreover, the number of the departments that generate Enterprise Imaging content and that have their own departmental workflows is quite large.

This results in significant confusion on the provider side who are left to navigate a myriad of perspectives expressed by the imaging informatics industry. There are on-going initiatives that are currently working on demystifying the field of Enterprise Imaging. For example, the recent SIIM Webinar delivered by Dr. Towbin from Cincinnati Children’s, provides a very thorough analysis of the problem domain.

In conversations with vendors and providers, we have compiled several observations that might benefit the imaging informatics community.

The Right Approach

In the SIIM 2015 Opening General Session presentation, Don Dennison presented the following slide titled “Enterprise Image Management: Making the Right Choice”


With the various systems in place to manage patient record data, there is often debate as to which enterprise system is best suited to offer Enterprise Imaging services.

At the moment, there is no obvious answer to the question presented by the slide. Besides the technical capabilities of the systems, the provider’s internal IT capabilities, capacity and policies can significantly influence the decision. At some organizations, where the Imaging Informatics Team plays a prominent IT role, the choice could be the VNA, while at others, where the Enterprise IT team takes the lead, the EMR or ECM is often chosen.

The Right Functionality

During RSNA 2015, we conducted a study to identify the state-of-the-art of Enterprise Imaging technology, including methods of acquisition, management, and distribution of non-DICOM images. The following table summarizes our findings.


Image / Video Acquisition
Ability to capture from mobile devices The majority of current vendors opted for native applications to provide better user experience and tighter security controls. Still, image capture is the prevailing capability, with video acquisition capabilities lagging behind. Some vendors offer integration with leading EMRs’ mobile applications.
Ability to capture from visible light cameras The ability to manually (i.e. file browse, drag & drop, etc.) upload both videos and images is a commodity. Automatic ingestion, on other hand, varies significantly from vendor to vendor. Most vendors offer proprietary integration frameworks, but their comprehensiveness and real-life integration experience is very different from one to another.
Ability to capture from different scopes Most of the vendors leverage third party hardware devices to integrate with digital or analog video sources real-time.
Acquisition Workflow
Order-based Workflow DICOM Modality Worklist (DMWL) SCU support, as well as the ability to generate or receive order information, are available in most vendor’s applications.
Context-based launch of the capture application is also a well understood and supported functionality.
Many of the vendors mimic an order-based workflow (i.e. create the Accession Number) for the acquisitions that are not scheduled. The main challenge with this approach is to determine the correct method to feed the created information back to the EMR (e.g. often called an “unsolicited result”, which may not be supported at the site).
Encounter-based Workflow Some vendors, originating from the Diagnostic Imaging space, struggle with native Encounter-based workflow support.
On many occasions, departmental visit/encounter information, supplied in HL7 messages from the EMR, is sufficient to build specific acquisition worklists for different service lines.
Scenarios where information services are not available Most of the vendors offer the ability to manually create patient and procedure information. The difference lies in whether all or just a sub-set of capturing methods (e.g. mobile vs. desktop) support that functionality.
Patient identity management Standards-based methods to discover or receive patient information is widely supported, while the support for proprietary methods to connect to patient information sources varies from vendor to vendor.
Ability to Edit Images/Videos
Editing Tools Most of the vendors rely on an installed Windows OS client application to edit (e.g. crop) acquired images or videos as part of the manual upload process (e.g. drag & drop). Selected vendors also allow static image editing only (i.e. no video) during the mobile capture.
Images An ability to associate different types of metadata (including notes) is supported by the majority of the vendors. Also, basic manipulation of the acquired images such as image deletion, markups and annotation, which are stored as overlay objects associated with the acquired images is common.
Only selected vendors are capable of calibrating images on-the-fly by using recognizable objects of known size embedded in the image.
Videos A flexible and comprehensive ability to associate different types of metadata (including notes and keywords) is supported by the majority of the vendors.
Most of the vendors have very limited (if at all) video editing and capturing capabilities and rely on third party providers.
Current state The solutions typically consist of the following viewers:

  • Mobile capture
  • Desktop image/video upload
  • Desktop image/video editor
  • Zero-footprint (ZFP) EMR viewer with very limited, if at all, editing capabilities
Privacy and Security
Current state Most of the vendors offer a range of methods to ensure PHI protection such as:

  • Information deletion/encryption from the device
  • Strong Authentication and Authorization methods
  • Auditing
Current state The most prevalent approach is to rely on an external system, such as the EMR or specialty-specific reporting application, to create and manage reports.
Record Management
Current state Most of the vendors opt for managing image and videos in their native format, while converting the content on-the-fly for standards-based communication with external systems.


It seems that Enterprise Imaging is going to rapidly evolve and we are eager to see how our clients, and providers in general, will benefit from these changes.

Working on an Enterprise Imaging project? Leave us a comment with your thoughts, or contact us.

Imaging Informatics as part of M&A

Recently I read this report titled “M&A—To What End?” written by The Advisory Board Company. Although it was published in 2014, it provides good insight into the ongoing merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the U.S. healthcare market.

There are several observations that I think are worthwhile sharing.

The motivation behind M&A

Historically, the most common reasons cited for M&A activity are: 1) the consolidated provider’s ability to demand higher prices for delivered services; and 2) the consolidated provider’s ability to secure larger referral volume. The following study by Jamie Robinson of the University of California provides empirical evidence for the first above-mentioned reason.


Therefore, it was quite interesting to read the following statement and the associated chart in the Advisory Group report:

“These benefits of scale are increasingly hard to come by as the health care industry evolves and matures. Still, we see boards and management teams, from the smallest private practices and community hospitals to the largest for-profit chains, continuing to narrowly focus on scale as the primary motivation for M&A. They are asking each other, and asking us: “How big is big enough?” But these days, “How big is big enough?” is a worthy but insufficient question. Size alone, and size’s legacy benefits, will not be enough for health systems to grow profitably. 


Cost-savings Opportunities

The report claims that the perceived economies of scale—that should deliver cost-savings to the merged organizations—exist, but it is very hard to capture them due to “… institutional inertia, pressure from stakeholders, and the sheer magnitude of the task…”.

The following chart is particularly interesting. It ranks different cost-savings opportunities pursued by the merged organization.


As you can see, Radiology Services represent the first clinical domain which is targeted by the merged organizations once the back-office’s economies of scale are achieved.

I find this particular ranking to be sensible. In contrast to other clinical domains, the imaging informatics industry has very mature and standardized clinical IT solutions that can scale to serve merged organizations and provide quick wins during post-merger clinical and IT integration.

Our clients are frequently growing their Radiology services through M&A and affiliation activities. The current state-of-the-art of the imaging informatics market, such as the implementation of VNA and Enterprise Viewer solutions, coupled with existing Image Sharing methods, enables them to abstract the complexities of multiple PACS systems (across multiple joined organizations) to realize both consolidated IT and clinical benefits.

As always, comments, opinions, and insights are welcomed.

Article: Major Insurance Company will no longer cover Breast Tomosynthesis Exams

Per this article, citing lack of clinical evidence and radiation dose concerns, Cigna will no longer cover Breast Tomosynthesis exams, which generate 3D image sets, as of 15-Feb-2016.

Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBT) exams are often praised for their superior ability to provide effective imaging when diagnosing women with dense breasts.

Somewhat of a challenge for IT systems and staff due to the significant size of their data sets compared to the traditional 2D mammogram exams, adoption of DBT modalities has been rapid lately due to the generally accepted diagnostic benefits.

I can’t imagine that this lack of coverage will last.

For those wanting a description of the different between 2D (Mammogram) and 3D (Tomosynthesis) breast imaging, this article provides an overview in plain language.

Here is an RSNA article on the state-of-the-art for Breast Tomosynthesis.

And here is an article on the merits of Breast Tomosynthesis over traditional Mammography for detecting cancer.

And another on reducing recall rates.

ACR: CMS Delays Clinical Decision Support (CDS) Implementation Requirement

ACR post (30-Oct-2015) is here.


…CMS states that they anticipate including further discussion and adopting policies regarding claims-based reporting requirements in the CY 2017 and CY 2018 rulemaking cycles. Therefore, they do not intend to require that ordering professionals meet this requirement by January 1, 2017

Meaningful Use Stage 3 Rule and Imaging

At 3 pm ET on March 20, 2015, CMS released the Meaningful Use Stage 3 proposed rule to “specify the meaningful use criteria that eligible professionals (EPs), eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) must meet in order to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive payments and avoid downward payment adjustments under Medicare for Stage 3 of the EHR Incentive Programs.”

Here is a useful overview of MU Stage 3 (not just about imaging). And here is another MU Stage 3 overview. And here is an infographic.

A quick search for any mention of “imaging” (there are no instances of the word “images” in the 301 page PDF document; I checked), and here are the main excerpts.

Page 78

In alignment with the HHS National Quality Strategy goals, providers are encouraged to implement CDS related to quality measurement and improvement goals on the following areas:

Appropriateness of diagnostic orders or procedures such as labs, diagnostic imaging, genetic testing, pharmacogenetic and pharmacogenomic test result support or other diagnostic testing.

Page 81

Objective 4: Computerized Provider Order Entry

Proposed Objective: Use computerized provider order entry (CPOE) for medication, laboratory, and diagnostic imaging orders directly entered by any licensed healthcare professional, credentialed medical assistant, or a medical staff member credentialed to and performing the equivalent duties of a credentialed medical assistant; who can enter orders into the medical record per state, local, and professional guidelines.

Page 82

We propose to continue our policy from the Stage 2 final rule that the orders to be included in this objective are medication, laboratory, and radiology orders as such orders are commonly included in CPOE implementation and offer opportunity to maximize efficiencies for providers. However, for Stage 3, we are proposing to expand the objective to include diagnostic imaging, which is a broader category including other imaging tests such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance, and computed tomography in addition to traditional radiology. This change addresses the needs of specialists and allows for a wider variety of clinical orders relevant to particular specialists to be included for purposes of measurement.

Page 85

We also propose to maintain for Stage 3 the Stage 2 description of “radiologic services” as any imaging service that uses electronic product radiation (77 FR 53986). Even though we are proposing to expand the CPOE objective from radiology orders to all diagnostic imaging orders, this description would still apply for radiology services within the expanded objective.

Proposed Measures: An EP, eligible hospital or CAH must meet all three measures.

Proposed Measure 1: More than 80 percent of medication orders created by the EP or authorized providers of the eligible hospital’s or CAH’s inpatient or emergency department (POS 21 or 23) during the EHR reporting period are recorded using computerized provider order entry;

Proposed Measure 2: More than 60 percent of laboratory orders created by the EP or authorized providers of the eligible hospital’s or CAH’s inpatient or emergency department (POS 21 or 23) during the EHR reporting period are recorded using computerized provider order entry; and

Proposed Measure 3: More than 60 percent of diagnostic imaging orders created by the EP or authorized providers of the eligible hospital’s or CAH’s inpatient or emergency department (POS 21 or 23) during the EHR reporting period are recorded using computerized provider order entry.

Page 86

Based on our review of attestation data from Stages 1 and 2 demonstrating provider performance on the CPOE measures, we propose to increase the threshold for medication orders to 80 percent and to increase the threshold for diagnostic imaging orders and laboratory orders to 60 percent. Median performance for Stage 1 on medication orders is 95 percent for EPs and 93 percent for eligible hospitals and CAHs. Stage 2 median performance on laboratory and radiology orders is 80 percent and 83 percent for eligible hospitals and CAHs and 100 percent for EPs for both measures. We believe it is reasonable to expect the actual use of CPOE for medication orders to increase from 60 percent in Stage 2 to 80 percent in Stage 3 and the actual use of CPOE for diagnostic imaging and laboratory orders to increase from 30 percent in Stage 2 to 60 percent in Stage 3. We note that despite the expansion of the category for radiology orders to diagnostic imaging orders, we do not anticipate a negative impact on the ability of providers to meet the higher threshold as the adoption of the expanded functionality does not require additional workflow implementation and allows for inclusion of a wider range of orders already being captured by many providers. Therefore, for medication orders we propose the threshold at 80 percent and for diagnostic imaging and laboratory orders we propose the threshold at 60 percent for Stage 3.

Page 88

Proposed Measure 3

To calculate the percentage, CMS and ONC have worked together to define the following for this measure :

Denominator: Number of diagnostic imaging orders created by the EP or authorized providers in the eligible hospital’s or CAH’s inpatient or emergency department (POS 21 or 23) during the EHR reporting period.

Numerator: The number of orders in the denominator recorded using CPOE.
Threshold: The resulting percentage must be more than 60 percent in order for an EP, eligible hospital, or CAH to meet this measure.

Exclusion: Any EP who writes fewer than 100 diagnostic imaging orders during the EHR reporting period.

Page 221

A table lists the estimated time burden to attest for the CPOE rule (Measure 3 for Imaging), as 10 minutes for an EP and also 10 minutes for a hospital.

Article – Imaging Shift to Hospital Outpatient Facilities Concerns Radiologists

Following my post on consumer choice in imaging services, in which I asked how do we use quality—and not just cost—to help consumers make choices, I found some observations in this article on the shift of imaging being done in imaging centers to outpatient facilities to be quite interesting.

For example…

“groups at imaging centers may struggle to upgrade or get new equipment, which could affect image quality and interpretation”

So, how do I, as an imaging consumer know which provider has modern, safe, calibrated equipment, operated by qualified and skilled operators when making my choice of where to get imaging done?

I don’t ask my dry cleaner about what equipment they use, or when it was last serviced, or how much experience the person in the back doing the work has. Nor to I ask these questions about my car wash.

I often make choices in dry cleaning and cash washing based on cost, but more so convenience.

But this is my health and it is my body going through that device, not my clothes or my car.

I wonder how many people will simply trust that a friendly receptionist, flowers and nice magazines in the waiting room at a facility near where I work means quality and safe imaging. If I have a good experience during my imaging appointment, but they miss important findings due to low quality images (or lack of sub-specialty knowledge/training), how will I know?

Unlike a spot that doesn’t come out of my shirt or a still dirty section of my car, the consequences can be severe.

Article – Insurers will have to change to survive

I have been very interested in the changes to how Radiology revenues will be affected during the shift from volume to value based reimbursement, along with changes to healthcare business models in general. I blogged about it here.

I have also been interested in how Radiology will have to change their behaviors in this new environment of transparency and empowered consumers. I blogged about that here.

In this article, a healthcare investment firm details how insurers will have to change in order to compete for mind share among consumers (with choice).

Another very interesting point they make is about wearables. I agree that they are only used by so called Innovators (from the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle model) today.

But what if insurance companies start offering incentives in the form of reduced policy premiums for people that use them (and share the data with the insurer perhaps). This is much like having a security system on your home lowers the cost of your theft insurance, or smoke detectors lowers your fire insurance premiums. This would create a boom in the mHealth sector, and would likely improve outcomes through early detection and correcting unhealthy behaviors.

I wonder: Will providers and insurers compete for who knows the patient best?

Providers have the EMR data (for encounters with their facility), and perhaps from an HIE (if they are part of one). Insurers have info from payment transactions spanning hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and others.

Where will the data from wearables go? If the insurers are buying (by lowering premiums), I will bet that they get it more often that the provider.

Will wearables and mHealth device vendors be savvy enough to provide it to both? Will consumer-controlled PHR vendors (or information aggregation and brokering tools) have an optimized method for getting data from all a patient’s devices and apps into EMR systems? Will the provider’s EMR or HIE be open enough to receive and store the wearable’s data without manual data entry (or copy-paste)?

Will patient’s be willing to share this personal info with providers and insurers? I will bet: yes.

If I thought the data would help my outcome, and I trusted my provider, I would share it.

If it was certain to lower my premiums, I would share the info with my insurer. If the insurer reserved the right to increase premiums based on info that my wearable provided (i.e. if I sit on the couch too long, my payment goes up), I might reconsider.

Will providers supply no cost (or subsidized) wearable and mHealth devices (or apps) to patients? Will insurers and providers share this cost?

So, how can wearables help in Radiology? Other than sending out reminders on where and when to show up for the exam, and what to do (e.g. eating, etc.) prior to the procedure.

Creating Practical Value in Practice (of Radiology)

There is a lot written these days about the shift from volume-based to value-based in Radiology (and other medical specialties).

The thing is: volume is real easy to measure. And what gets measured, gets managed.

So, how do we measure value?

One can measure the time it takes to complete the report, sign it, and make it available to physicians and other members of the care team. Radiology practitioners call this Turnaround Time (or TAT). This is pretty easy to do.

We could try to measure whether the report is correct. In other words, is what the Radiologist concludes actually what is wrong (or not wrong) with the patient? This can be harder to measure, as it may take a lot of work to correlate many different data points, or a lengthy period of time for proof to be found.

There are a couple of activities that Radiologists, and other people working in the department, can do to improve the perceived value of Radiology.

In this article, a number of suggestions are made as to how to increase the visibility of Radiologists, as well as improve relationships and trust among other physicians and even patients.

And this WSJ article focuses on simply improving the clarity of the report by improving the language and writing skills of Radiologist. Seems obvious as to the value this would provide, when you read it, but how many Radiologists routinely attend training on how to communicate better?

While improving how Radiologists interact with the outside world—whether through better interactions or better writing—will help the Radiologist’s career, one would hope that it would also improve care. Better communication certainly couldn’t hurt.

Article – Who is the better radiologist? Hint, it’s not that easy.

I really enjoyed this article. It gets into the specifics of what we could mean by quality of Radiology reading.

I think it gets to the crux of the problem in any domain when quality is desired—a trade off is necessary. It may be cost, or it may be the experience of the user, but it will be somewhere.

Let’s use a similar evaluation in software development.

Coders that are fast are lauded as innovative and bright and creative, until their barely-tested and unscalable application fails in operations, or a security hole results in a data breach. These folks are often called “hackers” (but generally in a positive way).

The more thorough developer is criticized for taking too long and keeping the application in the lab (instead of the “real world”) for too long. They spend significantly more time in the design and testing and documentation areas, so to outsiders, they are slow. Their products take more time (missing some early opportunities seized by hackers), but the applications are much more reliable and supportable in operations. They are professional software developers.

As someone that has managed R&D teams before, you always want both behaviors (and results), but as the article posits, you often cannot have both. You certainly shouldn’t expect to get both.

I often say: Decisions are easy (I decide I want innovation and reliability, and I want it fast), but Choices are hard. I value people that can make choices, and live with them, much more than so called “decision makers”.