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Why Image-Enabling the EHR Benefits Patients and Providers Alike


It is time for facilities to push for greater interoperability and unified systems.

A picture is worth a thousand words, yet many hospitals and health systems still rely on outdated, siloed, and on-premise technology for storing and transferring medical imaging. This outdated technology leads to most electronic health records (EHRs) missing a patient’s diagnostic imaging and only displaying text-based radiology reports. Imagine Facebook or Instagram with just words and no images; it’s a far less comprehensive picture of the individual.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new sense of urgency for facilities to break down traditional barriers and allow seamless access to medical imaging data for trauma transfers, everyday telehealth appointments, second opinions, and more. A patient should never face a care delay due to the delayed arrival of medical imaging.

Teamwork between providers and coordination among various points from imaging centers, primary care physicians, and hospital surgical units are absolutely critical. U.S. hospital mergers and acquisitions have been a high rate for the past several years, and today’s patients may find themselves moving through several different locations rather than completing every test at one large hospital. Many physicians feel “trapped” and exhausted by onsite hardware and siloed systems. The administrative time currently spent shuffling around CDs, rekeying information on studies, and maintaining virtual private networks to exchange imaging and associated data is immensely frustrating and cost prohibitive.

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Data from the Ditch the Disk website survey has shown that the average facility burns about 1,911 CDs per month. With each CD upload taking a few minutes (in a best-case scenario), that could waste hours each day. Administrators and clinicians are frustrated by this enormous waste of time with over 74 percent believing that eliminating CDs could increase job satisfaction.

Image enabling an EHR system takes away the frustration of dealing with CDs and logging into two systems and toggling between them. Instead, both patient records and imaging are all available directly from within the patient jacket. Single sign-on integration seamlessly authenticates users into the EHR for image viewing, with no need for multiple logins. Since imaging and data are integrated together within the patient jacket, patient health information also remains in sync.

Another key benefit of image-enabling the EHR is that it provides enterprise-wide viewing of a study simultaneously. In other words, multiple specialists can access and view an exam at the same time and from different places. For example, at UC San Diego Health, staff can upload studies off CDs within minutes with Ambra Health, and the study becomes available for network-wide viewing immediately. The workflow allows UC San Diego Health to match data from Epic to the CD and overrides the information on the disk. Ambra’s integration with Epic’s affiliated physician portal enables physicians to view imaging directly from the order record. It can also be configured for the physician to be able to view any prior imaging studies for the patient based on a Medical Record Number (MRN).

The current shift towards telehealth services has forced hospitals and health systems to evaluate their processes for sharing patient data. With the increase of remote visits and desire from patients to have access to their records, remote sharing has become a crucial part of medical records management. Patient and referring physician portals enable hospitals and health systems to automatically and easily share studies and reports with patients and referring physicians, making life easier and more efficient for patient and referring physician populations.

Image-enabling the EHR opens the doors to an image-enabled patient portal. The patient experience starts the moment they walk into your office and are greeted by front desk staff. Wasting time searching for an old CD, struggling to upload the images, or letting a patient know that their images are inaccessible for any reason are a less than ideal way to start any visit. Streamline processes by offering patients the ability to upload prior imaging from CDs directly to you ahead of an appointment.

Or better yet, stay connected through the cloud to local imaging centers that frequently send to your office so that patient imaging appears directly in your EHR system leading to a seamless appointment. After the appointment is over, providing patients with a user friendly and easy-to-access patient portal is a great way to stay in touch and encourage patients to take control of their own health data and, in turn, their health as a whole.

Image-enabling the EHR can have long-term health benefits for patients. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) launched an Initiative to Reduce Unnecessary Radiation Exposure from Medical Imaging. The CDRH developed several key initiatives that keep in mind that imaging exams must do more good than harm. Among these was a movement to incorporate key quality assurance practices into both hospitals and imaging facilities.

Image enabling the EHR allows physicians easy access to patient imaging – reducing the number of duplicate test orders and the amount of radiation exposure. In addition, a cloud-based suite allows physicians to not only place the current order, but also search archived imaging for all previous medical imaging associated with that patient across their network.

As busy physicians spend their days suiting up in personal protective gear and face a steady stream of patients, the last thing they should need to worry about is logging into multiple systems to access critical information. It’s time for facilities to push towards greater interoperability and unified systems.

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