Automation has taken hold in most businesses across most industries, but healthcare lags in applying this technology to simplify processes, reduce costs, and improve operational efficiencies.
Automation has been in widespread use in finance and manufacturing for years, but most healthcare businesses have only recently embraced these technologies. A few large healthcare facilities and networks have enterprise-level automation systems, but the vast majority of healthcare offices are still using manual processes for things like record sharing and workflow management.
Many in the medical field are OK with handing patients an imaging disc or film for them to carry, personally, to another provider for review. That would not be an acceptable customer burden in any other industry, yet it is a standard practice in many medical networks.
Why is that still the way we do things in the digital era when everything from banking to shopping can easily be done online? Why has it taken so long for the medical field to embrace modern efficiency, and what will it take for providers to enter the automation age?
Why healthcare has been slow to adopt automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) has been implemented in limited healthcare areas, such as managing data within the electronic health records (EHR) system, patient scheduling, and management and claims processing. But even progress in these areas has been painfully slow. Some of the reasons for the slow adoption of RPA include:
- FDA regulation: Technology used to invent new life-sustaining medical devices is subject to complex regulation, even more regulation than is needed to improve new drugs. This makes companies reluctant to invest in these technologies. Since many of these medical devices use smart technologies to communicate with other medical devices, there is little incentive to innovate.
- Data security: Our medical data is some of the most important and private information we have. Although electronic medical records (EMR) have been slowly implemented in recent years, there still are numerous technical challenges for ensuring that our medical information is kept private and safe from data breaches.
- Lack of communication standards for medical devices: There are no standard communication protocols between medical device manufacturers. Therefore, devices deployed in a hospital or medical practice may not be able to communicate with each other, limiting the use of RPA or other forms of automation.
- Implementation cost: Implementing an automation system is slow and time-consuming. It requires a lot of training, and all medical staff, from clerks to doctors, need to know how to use the system properly to realize its benefits. If the implementation of EHRs is any indicator, the implementation of RPA will likely disrupt medical practices’ efficient operation in the short-term as office personnel learn new workflows.
RPA is a core technology needed for automating the storage and sharing of digital images, but we must overcome these challenges to increase adoption, so the entire healthcare system runs more efficiently — and patients no longer have to carry important medical files with them to share with the next provider.
Challenges of automation for digital imaging
Digital imaging presents some additional challenges for automation efforts. Medical images are stored in the picture archiving and communication system (PACS), which uses the DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) universal format for file storage and transfer. Fortunately, this is one digital communication area with standard protocols, so images can be shared with other equipment capable of viewing DICOM images.
However, large file sizes still make digital transfer and storage a challenge. The level of detail necessary for medical images in the DICOM format, such as x-rays, CAT scans, ultrasounds, mammograms, MRI, and many others, call for larger file sizes. For example, the size of a single mammography image can be as large as 48MB. Files of this size are hard to transfer digitally over systems like email, and most of these tests require many images, so data transfer and storage solutions become a problem.
Privacy concerns are also a challenge. Meeting stringent HIPPA regulations limits the methods available for image file transfer and sharing.
The solution for digital imaging
An excellent medical digital imaging system must be compliant with all FDA and HIPAA regulations to protect patient privacy. These images also must adhere to DICOM standards, so any applications and equipment that read and process DICOM images can do so seamlessly.
This solution must include secure storage for multiple large-sized image files, as well. Although data servers at a hospital or other medical practice might be sufficient, they are not nearly as efficient or easy to maintain as a secure cloud-based solution. Products such as DICOM Director’s Store XR meets all of these requirements using technology that the FDA has already approved.
The other aspect of this solution needs to be the seamless, secure transfer of these images between technicians, physicians, patients, and other medical professionals. This solution needs to be able to work on every device type anywhere in the world, which is a key capability of DICOM Director’s Share XR.
Benefits of digital image automation
Once the technical issues of secure file storage and easy, secure sharing of digital files have been addressed, automation of rules-based processes with structured data can improve efficiency, costs, and medical outcomes. Here are a few of the specific benefits healthcare facilities could realize:
- Eliminate the need for physical storage: Image files shipped via CD-ROMs and flash drives are slow and vulnerable to loss or theft. Cloud-based solutions offer secure, scalable storage for medical imaging that is not tied to on-site physical servers.
- Faster diagnosis and treatment: Cloud-stored digital files can be shared between imaging technicians, physicians, surgeons, patients, and other medical professionals almost instantly. This allows specialists to share opinions faster and more quickly diagnose and treat patients.
- Better access to patient records: RPA can automate digital image storage as part of the patient’s EHR. This improves the accessibility of these images by storing them as part of the practice’s EHR databases. There are fewer opportunities for filing, retrieval, or transfer errors when you automate file management of these images.
- Seamless communication between medical devices: Since DICOM is the standard for all medical images, it can be used with any equipment that uses that format for scanning, storing, retrieving, interpreting, annotating, and updating images. It doesn’t matter what equipment or software the individual health care provider uses because the equipment speaks the same language.
- Improved operational efficiency: Using RPA for managing digital images reduces the need for manual data entry for EHRs and other healthcare record systems. Reducing the providers’ reliance on manual data entry and extraction minimizes the number of data entry errors in these systems, saving time and expense.
These are just a few of the benefits of implementing RPAs for digital image automation. The short-term learning-curve is well worth it to realize the long-term benefits.
Looking for the right solution for managing your medical images? DICOM Director provides safe and secure storage and sharing of your DICOM files. For more information, please fill out our simple online contact form, or give us a call at 1 (203) 823-9945.