Healthcare imaging has come a long way since the invention of the x-ray, giving today’s providers diagnostic and screening capabilities that were unimaginable just a decade ago.

But with the number of currently available imaging technologies, many healthcare organizations have struggled to adopt a cohesive imaging strategy that meets the needs of all stakeholders — leading to the implementation of multiple imaging systems and related friction points such as duplication in functionality, workflow inefficiencies, reduced provider and patient satisfaction, and increased costs.

Identifying the Problems

For many healthcare organizations, their “imaging status quo” can be compared to a 12-way intersection — with no map, no road signs, and several roads that lead to a dead end.

“Large healthcare organizations often have complex silos of imaging systems, data storage and workflows that don’t communicate with one another. This can lead to inefficiencies that increase economic and opportunity cost and negatively impact patient experience,” said Chris Jenkins, senior vice president at Healthlink Advisors. “By simplifying the imaging environment and tying it into efficient processes, healthcare organizations can increase satisfaction for physicians, clinicians, patients, and support teams.”

However, with increased workloads, budgetary constraints and constantly shifting organizational priorities, it can be challenging for healthcare CIOs and their teams to identify these inefficiencies — let alone untangle the constellation of imaging solutions utilized by different stakeholders.

And that’s where a big-picture approach to imaging strategy — informed by a consulting team of experienced CIOs, CTOs, nurses, and radiologists with a real-world understanding of healthcare imaging needs — can provide an actionable, cost-saving road map for an internal IT team.

A Road Map for Imaging Strategy Success

The first step for an organization looking to streamline their imaging strategy is to clarify 3-5 objectives that they want to achieve. Leveraging an advisory firm can assist this process by providing objective, unbiased input to identify key leaders and stakeholders in the organization to ensure the right variety of cross-team representation is involved, observing the environment and taking an inventory of existing services — including the functionality provided, how each service is being used, and who is using it.

“The voice of the customer is critical, so we talk to clinical teams — including radiologists, nurses, IT and vendors — to understand how imaging systems are being accessed and how images are stored,” said Jenkins. “We also do in-person observations to see how radiologists interact with their imaging systems and find out where friction points exist.”

And because developing a cohesive imaging strategy is more than just an IT project, it’s critical to look beyond the technology.

“We conduct time studies, look at workflows, and do a deep dive into every imaging system — which gives us a complete picture of the organization’s imaging capabilities and how their current solutions fit into their business,” said Jenkins. “We also look at the true cost of imaging solutions, factoring in the software, hardware, staffing and maintenance to provide clients with a total cost of ownership.”

From Findings to Fine-Tuning

After a rapid-paced deep dive is complete, observations are summarized and a road map is crafted that outlines challenges and risks, as well as prioritized recommendations to address them. Common findings to address include:

  • Duplication of functions. Identifying points of workflow duplication will help drive recommended options for streamlining services and assist IT staff in utilizing or deploying existing functionality — often at a significant cost savings.
  • Unused functions. Identification of unused functions that can enhance operations and processes.
  • Process and workflow inefficiencies. Whether it is ineffective scheduling causing patient backlogs or an imaging system that fails to interact seamlessly with the EHR, identifying problems with processes that exist outside of the imaging technology can lead to a truly comprehensive solution.
  • Improper configurations of systems and archives. Although most healthcare organizations have a vendor-neutral archive for image storage, it’s critical to ensure it is configured properly for easy access and integration with other systems.
  • Governance issues. Findings often identify problems with an organization’s decision-making structure, process, and communication as they relate to IT policy and imaging solutions.

Throughout this process, it’s important to be adaptable, agile and transparently discussing these critical findings, adjusting objectives accordingly to match an organization’s culture.

“Our teams are comprised of people who have previously served in roles inside a health system and have encountered and solved these problems at all levels,” said Jenkins. “We know how important it is to provide our clients with a comprehensive plan that includes realistic, prioritized, bite-sized steps to help them achieve their imaging goals — both from a clinical and IT perspective.”