They were pictures of first birthdays, graduations, vacations, home renovations, the dog catching a Frisbee … things that mattered to you in the moment. You likely shared a good number of them on Instagram or Facebook, but at least half of the photos you took were never printed or backed up.
Five years from now, you will be lucky if you can find that photo of little William destroying his first birthday cake. Even if you can, there is no guarantee the technology will be compatible.
So imagine the headache it would be if you took tens of thousands of images every year, could never delete them, and lives depended upon them being accessible a moment’s notice.
Welcome to the world of medical imaging.
Imaging studies – X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc. – are the lifeblood of modern medicine. Millions of diagnostic studies are performed in the U.S. each year, generating multiple images, each of which must be reviewed by a radiologist (the physician who specializes in interpreting medical images); permanently stored; and made accessible to the healthcare provider responsible for the patient’s care. All of this has to be available not just today, but for months and years into the future, and not just in Lexington, but anywhere the patient might seek care.
The system that makes all of this possible is called PACS – Picture Archiving and Communications System. Since 1996, Lexington Diagnostic Center and Open MRI has been on the forefront of adopting digital imaging and using PACS to ensure imaging studies are accessible, when needed, wherever needed.
Tim Valenta, IT manager at Lexington Diagnostic Center, is responsible for ensuring all is well with the PACS system. “Many people are relying on the images we capture at Lexington Diagnostic Center to make important decisions about treatment, and those images have to be available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Valenta said. “It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”
PACS is about more than just storing images and radiologists’ reports, Valenta notes. Digital imaging and PACS have led to improvements in diagnosis and treatment, patient outcomes, speed, convenience and much more.
“It’s rather like the difference between a bicycle and a motorcycle,” Valenta said. Both will get you to where you need to go, but the motorcycle will get you there faster, with a lot less effort. Gone are the plates, films and chemicals needed to process the film. Gone are the dusty film storage rooms and cumbersome retrieval methods. Today, referring physicians can retrieve a patient’s study quickly over a secure Internet connection and patients leave LDC with a disc containing all of the images from their study.
Quality has improved, too. Just like the photos you take with your iPhone, sophisticated software allows the digital images to be enhanced. The radiologist can zoom in for a closer look at a particular segment of the image; change the brightness and contrast; take accurate measurements of structures; and, depending on the imaging modality, add color or create three-dimensional images.
“All of this has led to great improvements in the ability to detect changes indicative of disease or injury,” Valenta noted. Lexington Diagnostic Center began archiving its studies digitally in 1996, ensuring continuity from then to now.
The format used to store these medical images is called DICOM (Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine). The DICOM standard ensures that images captured at Lexington Diagnostic Center can be viewed at nearly any healthcare facility anywhere in the world, including a hospital in Lexington, Myrtle Beach or even London, England.
This is reassuring for patients who travel a lot or who winter in another part of the country, Valenta noted, because patients know should something happen with their health, prior imaging studies are only a few clicks away via our secure provider portal.
Accessible … yet very secure
Keeping health information accessible to those who have a legitimate need to access it, and safe from those who do not – is a top priority at Lexington Diagnostic Center, Valenta said.
A U.S. Navy Veteran who served as an electronics technician aboard a nuclear sub, Valenta knows about security. “Our systems are top-notch,” he said. “The internal network is constantly audited access restricted to only those people who need to have access to provide care to that particular patient at that particular moment.”
Referring physicians and providers can access imaging studies only through LDC’s secure provider portal and only after being granted access. Lexington Diagnostic meets both federal HIPAA and HIM guidelines, Valenta noted.
It is a big responsibility, but one that the entire staff at Lexington Diagnostic Center takes to heart. “Every single member of our team is committed not only to providing the highest quality of imaging studies, but to protecting our patients’ privacy and health information,” Valenta noted.
Terms to Know
PACS – Picture Archiving and Communication Systems. The platform for storing and communicating digital images within a radiology practice, department or hospital.
DICOM – Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine. The “language” used to store and communicate medical images.
EHR/EMR – Electronic Health/Medical Record. The “electronic file” that contains all of a patient’s health information, including outpatient tests and treatments, office visits, hospitalizations, etc.
HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The federal law, passed in 1996, that both ensures that people are able to acquire health insurance as they change jobs (portability) regardless of existing medical conditions and protects the privacy of their health information. HIPAA established national standards for electronic healthcare transactions.
PHI – Personal Health Information or Protected Health Information. The information identified by the federal government to protected from unauthorized disclosure.
HIM – Health Information Management – The process of acquiring, analyzing and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care.
Meet Tim Valenta
The IT manager at Lexington Diagnostic Center and Open MRI, Tim Valenta is a native of Minneapolis, Minn. He joined the U.S. Navy after graduating high school in American Fork, Utah and served six years aboard a nuclear submarine as an electronics technician.
Upon returning home, Valenta served 18 months as a missionary in Argentina. Prior to joining Lexington Diagnostic Center in 1995, Valenta worked for Unisys Corp. and with Fonar, one of the first manufacturers of MRI systems in the U.S.
Today, Valenta is responsible for designing and maintaining Lexington Diagnostic Center’s information technology network, computer systems, communications equipment, and PACS system. He also provides custom programming solutions to improve workflow at LDC. He has more than 30 years experience with electronics and computer systems.
Lexington Diagnostic Center offers High-Field MRI, Open MRI, CT, Ultrasound, X-ray, Nuclear Medicine, DEXA, and image-guided joint and epidural injections.