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Still Using CDs? Why You Should Ditch the Disk This Earth Day


Pivoting from CDs is a win for radiology, you just need to know how to do it.

Today, somewhere in America, a patient will receive a copy of their medical imaging on a CD. It’s hard to believe that this relic of the 90s still exists, let alone is in regular use at healthcare facilities. Many home computers and laptops no longer contain disc drives necessary for loading CDs, making the process for patients to view imaging inconvenient and cumbersome. And patients aren’t the only ones negatively impacted by the continued use of CDs.

The cost healthcare organizations incur from purchasing, burning, and couriering CDs is enormous. Hospitals can still spend as much as $15 per CD, according to one healthcare executive and some health systems spend upwards of $100,000 per year in courier costs alone.

The financial costs are only one part of the problem. If I challenged you to rummage through your old desk drawers, I bet you could find several, if not dozens, of old CDs destined for the landfill. This issue is exponential for radiology departments. It takes a CD roughly 1 million years to break down in a landfill.

The 21st Century Cures Act and consumer demand has added momentum to the movement away from CDs and towards cloud-based imaging systems. This Earth Day, let’s commit to ditching the disc entirely. It’s better for patients, providers, and the planet.

Moving to Cloud-based Imaging is a Win-Win

In addition to reducing items destined to the landfill, moving to a cloud-based imaging system provides patients better access to imaging, saves facilities money, and improves care.

Adopting new technologies like these can go a long way toward meeting the growing patient demand and new regulations for access to personal health records. Cloud-based platforms enable medical facilities to create patient portals that provide instant access to information and images.

The benefits of moving to a cloud-based imaging system for facilities are well documented – a reduction in administration time and lower burnout rates among staff, fewer processing errors, and less unnecessary redundant imaging exams to name a few.

For example, at Gunnison Valley in Colorado, the mountains bring in both a winter ski population and a summer hiking population, as well. However, with many tourists heading home at the end of each season, sending imaging via CD for follow-ups with home physicians quickly became a burdensome and expensive task. Particularly, during the winter, mailing a CD could take weeks if a snowstorm hit the region. Embracing the #DitchTheDisk movement, the marketing team was able to quickly spread the word regarding simplified electronic image-sharing. Today, imaging can be shared with patients and referring physicians in just a few seconds.

My company, Ambra Health, found that healthcare facilities spend more than 84 days per year on CD upload, burning, and patient data matching alone. Try this calculator to determine just how much money your facility may be spending on CDs.

What Happens to CD Waste

Every month, approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most are destined for the landfill or incinerator. One of the easiest ways to keep CDs out of the landfill is to reuse them, but due to sensitive personal health information, that’s not always an option for radiology departments.

Depending on their condition, CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized recycling companies clean and grind the disc into raw polycarbonate plastic, resulting in white and clear powdery material that resembles snowflakes. The raw polycarbonate plastics can, then, be sold and melted down for a variety of new purposes, including in automotive parts, office equipment, and municipal electrical cable insulation. And studies are underway for further novel uses.

The market for recycled CDs still remains nascent, according to the New York Times, which recently did an in-depth look on the life cycles of CDs. And when choosing to recycle, one must consider the carbon footprint tradeoffs for transporting the CD to a designated recycling center.

How to Recycle Old CDs

Prior to modifying your waste disposal practices, you’ll want to ensure any new actions meet HIPAA requirements of disposing media containing personal health information. Here are several options for recycling unused or clear CDs and other “techno-trash.”

Green Disk (founded on Earth Day in 1993 and headquartered in Sammamish, Wash.) is a fee-based service that offers a variety of options from “starter kit” to enterprise options for transporting “techno-trash” to their recycling processing plant.

The New Hampshire-based CD Recycling Center is another option. Operations are currently paused due to the pandemic, but you can request to be placed on a mailing list to be notified of its reopening.

Another option is to check with your local waste management company. Many municipal waste management companies have directions online on how and where to recycle or properly dispose of CDs and other “techno-trash.”

For more coverage based on industry expert insights and research, subscribe to the Diagnostic Imaging e-Newsletter here.

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