Distributed imaging unified workflow brings better outcomes

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 - Telemedicine

Any distributed workflow solution worth its salt helps radiologists work at the top of their clinical skill set, maximize their productivity and fully integrate their workflow with that of the rest of their practice—and, ultimately, with the workflow of the ordering physician, practice or provider organization.

In other words, the best distributed solution is one that helps the radiologist work smarter rather than harder in this era of outcomes-driven care.

Milwaukee-based Integrated Radiology Partners is lighting the way along this technological path, having developed with its partner, Plexus TeleRadiology, LLC its Imaging Workflow Management system for medium-size radiology practices—namely those with 15 to 50 radiologists—that want to leverage their radiologist sub-specialist pool for maximal clinical effectiveness and business acumen.

Meanwhile, the system is scalable to hospital clients of all sizes, up to and including multi-hospital integrated delivery systems, whose constituent imaging stakeholders are not connected via unified PACS.

William G. Pickart, IRP’s chief executive officer, explains that the system design grew out of a common concern shared by nearly all radiology providers today: how to load balance and manage the provision of subspecialty access 24/7 to the interpretation demand that exists across their network of clients.

“In the case where a radiology practice enjoys the luxury of providing interpretations for not only a hospital system but also for various outreach clients, the need for a unified worklist becomes even more critical,” he says.

Traditionally, a hospital system doesn’t extend its unified PACS—if it even has one—out to other business or support opportunities that the practices engage in to provide services to the community.

The IRP system is, in essence, a kind of network “umbrella” overlaying all those different sites. It can encourage appropriate load-balancing, resource management and the efficiencies needed to deploy radiologists’ skills and expertise in a truly enterprise-wide approach.

“Typically there are high expenses and large capital costs associated with maintaining a teleradiology capability like IRPs,” says Pickart. “The Plexus TeleRadiology model is set up as a software as a service (SaaS) type model, where we deliver the technologies through the cloud. As a result, we can keep expenses and capital outlays very low.”

Ordering a la carte off the menu

Unlike most competitive offerings, and part of the genius of the IRP/Plexus Imaging Workflow Management system is that it is neither tied to a specific technology nor dedicated to a specific type of vendor. The consultancy picks vendors to work with based on the vendors’ ability to offer best-of-class capabilities. Mixing and matching to fit clients’ unique needs, IRP builds a modular solution that facilitates not only a unified work list but also a unified business or teleradiology subsystem to the client practice.

The solution incorporates PACS and the workflow assignment logic that goes behind moving images across the enterprise, and it allows the incorporation of IRP analytics. From these can flow such worthwhile add-ons as revenue cycle management, critical results management and other technologies that lay on top of the core distributed imaging.

“For lack of a better analogy, it is configured like an  a la carte  menu,” says Pickart. “The client doesn’t have to buy everything we sell. So it is a comprehensive and all-enveloping type of scalable support to the practice, allowing them to provide service at a very high marginal utility with low marginal cost. And that brings significant value back to their outreach clients and to the hospital systems that they support.”

Such full bundling at a low cost is the key advantage that has turned IRP’s onetime prospects into longtime clients.

“Our efficiency improvements range between 30 percent to as much as 60 percent,” says Pickart. “And in addition to providing the Plexus technology, IRP is capable of brokering relationships between radiology groups. Because we are not a teleradiology practice—we are a technology services provider—we broker both capacity and expertise between groups. It has worked out to the great benefit of groups challenged by a lack of resources.”

Mighty modularity

Keith Chew, IRP’s senior vice president, voices his enthusiasm for where the company’s distributed workflow solution may help take U.S. healthcare. One of the areas sure to start emerging is