Investment in IT bolsters clinical practice and business efficiency

December 12, 2007

The ability to exploit the potential benefits of fast-changing information technology requires more than an occasional software update. The manager needs a skilled technical staff to build a robust IT infrastructure, said Fred Gaschen, executive vice president of Radiological Associates of Sacramento.

The ability to exploit the potential benefits of fast-changing information technology requires more than an occasional software update. The manager needs a skilled technical staff to build a robust IT infrastructure, said Fred Gaschen, executive vice president of Radiological Associates of Sacramento.

Gaschen's group owns 17 outpatient imaging facilities and seven radiation oncology centers serving four central California counties. Its radiologists also interpret studies for five hospitals in the area. The basics of radiological IT that RAS applies on a large scale are relevant to radiology groups regardless of their size, Gaschen said in a lecture at the 2007 Economics of Diagnostic Imaging National Symposium in Arlington, VA.

"You've got to have people who understand and can modify your system," he said.

Skilled personnel strengthen IT infrastructures, Gaschen said. At the most basic level, a hospital or clinic must have a competent network administrator who can keep communication systems online all the time. It needs a clinical systems administrator who understands imaging workflow to oversee RIS/PACS operations. Technical support people are required onsite or through remote assistance for computer maintenance, training, disaster recovery, and business continuance.

Slow digital imaging retrieval and display are unacceptable, Gaschen said. A facility should have the resources to develop its own local area network and the ability to communicate quickly with its customers.

"That's a huge strategic value for us," he said.

Robust communications networks, including PACS, will become the lifeblood of medical imaging. Technically capable personnel working in a strong infrastructure will help radiologists get quick access to imaging interpretation, report signing, patient records, and online scheduling, virtually any time or place. Patients themselves may be able to tap into authorized sections of the system to check the status of their annual mammograms, he said.

By supporting their own IT department, facilities gain direct contact with local and national telecommunications companies for consultations about their infrastructure and connectivity needs. Administrators can stay attuned to their network's performance to ensure quality and avoid communication breaks that might inconvenience referring physicians, Gaschen said.

"If you want to be able to touch people outside of your organization, these are the questions you should be asking your hospital," he said.

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