Maximizing RIS Potential

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The IT needs of today’s radiology practices are ever evolving, and investing in the latest information solutions can be vital to the survival of a business in an increasingly cost-focused marketplace. For Raleigh Radiology Associates, a privately owned North Carolina practice offering a full range of imaging services across six locations throughout the Research Triangle region, that meant focusing on its RIS, as well as its PACS, in order to achieve optimal operational efficiency.

“Our marketing team started mining data from our RIS in 2004. It keeps up with the referrer database very well—how many procedures of each type we’ve done and what referrers ordered those procedures. You can pull which ZIP codes certain procedures are coming from, and we cross-reference that against the referrer database to find out what types of physicians are ordering what types of exams.”
--Marsha Woods

Raleigh's current RIS is the Encompass.NET RIS solution from Empiric Systems LLC, Morrisville, NC, (now Synapse Information Systems from FUJIFILM Medical Systems USA Inc, Stamford, Conn). While Raleigh was initially impressed with the typical RIS features that would provide it with scheduling, ordering, and reporting, the team was pleasantly surprised to discover a host of other capabilities made possible by the Web-based design and robust tool set of the RIS.

Soon after implementation of the RIS, Raleigh’s marketing team found a nonclinical use for the solution’s extensive database. “Our marketing team started mining data from our RIS in 2004,” Marsha Woods, IT director, says. “It keeps up with the referrer database very well—how many procedures of each type we’ve done and what referrers ordered those procedures. You can pull which ZIP codes certain procedures are coming from, and we cross-reference that against the referrer database to find out what types of physicians are ordering what types of exams.”

The data contained a few helpful surprises; Woods emphasizes that when it comes to determining which physicians in your area are top referrers, the anecdotal evidence is not to be trusted. “You hear the same doctors on the phone all the time, but when you’re taking into account all the faxes and emails as well, you’re surprised at how much some of the doctors are actually sending to you,” she says. “It also surprises you when it comes to types of exams. Some exams that you would think would be more likely to come from specialists are actually being ordered by family physicians a lot of the time.”

Armed with a robust range of referral data, Raleigh’s marketing team is better prepared to reach out to physicians in the community. “We can specifically target certain types of physicians, practices, and specialists by knowing exactly what types of exams they’re ordering,” Woods says.

Scheduling information can also be mined, benefiting both the patient and the facility. “I can pull anything I need out of it, as far as which patients are scheduled, when they were scheduled, and how long they were scheduled for,” she says. “You can also figure out how much time patients are spending in various rooms, so you can better organize your schedule based on how much time you need for a specific procedure.”

From an IT standpoint, the data aggregated by the RIS help Woods achieve efficiency in her day-to-day operations by allowing her to track when, where ,and for how long users have been accessing the system. “You know everyone who’s been there, where they were, and what they were doing,” she says, “which helps when you’re trying to track a patient’s specific account in the event of a delay or a problem.”

It goes without saying that an audit trail for every exam is a necessity, but Raleigh Radiology also uses this function to improve patient service. “On some occasions, a patient may call in wanting to know whether his or her physician has seen the images or the report,” Woods says. “You can track that through the system and tell the caller everything: whether the physician has opened the images and whether someone in the office has seen the report. It’s a customer-service benefit.”

Referring-physician service is also improved, thanks to the ability to log onto the system remotely and access exam data or schedule patients. “Giving access to the referring physicians is a big plus,” Woods says. “They can request their own orders, and they like that because it saves them time on the telephone.”

There’s a cost savings associated with allowing referrers