Choosing and architecting an enterprise imaging solution that promotes efficient and effective care delivery is one of the cornerstones of a sound healthcare IT strategy — especially as demand for imaging continues to increase amid a nationwide shortage of radiologists.

PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) and RIS (Radiology Information System) are both critical components in managing medical imaging, but they have distinct roles and workflows. PACS is primarily focused on storing, retrieving, managing, and displaying medical images. It is used by radiologists and other healthcare professionals to access patient imaging records and conduct detailed image analysis. RIS focuses on managing patient radiology data and workflow. This includes scheduling, patient tracking, radiology reporting, and billing.

According to Tim Webb, senior healthcare IT consultant at Healthlink Advisors, considering the benefits, drawbacks and features of PACS and RIS functionality — as well as how each solution integrates with existing imaging environment, will allow healthcare IT leaders to make the best choice for their organization’s needs.

“When evaluating PACS vs. RIS solutions, organizations need to prioritize radiologist efficiency — because that’s what promotes timely patient care,” said Webb.

PACS vs. RIS: What’s the Difference?

PACS solutions are digital image archive systems that can be used independently or integrated with the electronic health record (EHR). Depending on the PACS solution, complete integration with the EHR may not be possible — or desired functionality could require bolt-on solutions.

RIS systems are comprehensive digital image management systems that fully integrate with the EMR and the PACS system. Although RIS solutions may integrate more seamlessly with EHR-based workflows, and provide the radiologist with a more complete picture of the patient’s overall health, they can present challenges and may require more extensive user training and troubleshooting.

“Although PACS solutions are historically more widely used, some organizations are now considering leveraging RIS based workflows as they move toward an EHR-based IT strategy,” said Webb.

Things to Consider When Evaluating Imaging Needs

Chris Jenkins, executive vice president at Healthlink Advisors, said that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to address the unique imaging needs of every healthcare system.

“Before making any upgrades, each organization needs to look at the tools offered by the PACS or RIS solution, as well as the capabilities of their EMR,” said Jenkins.

Here are a few things healthcare organizations should consider:

  1. Who is using the functionality — and how are they using it?

Radiologists, radiology technologists, and other team members interact with the imaging solution in different ways, so it’s critical to consider all workflows for all users when choosing and architecting an enterprise imaging system.

“Technologists may use the EHR to check a patient in and go to PACS to review the images for quality — meaning that they are interacting with both systems,” said Webb. “Radiologists may only use PACS to prioritize and read studies before the results automatically flow back to the EHR.  Alternatively, they could queue up their next read in the EHR, open PACS to view the images and dictate the result. In any case, understanding each user’s workflow can inform system selection.”

  1. What are the capabilities of — and ties to — the EHR?

Organizations should consider how their chosen solution integrates with the EHR — including whether complete integration is possible, and whether any additional solutions are needed to achieve the desired level of integration.

  1. How can the system enhance efficiency, prioritization and patient care?

Considering how each option can assist radiologists with prioritizing reads can help improve operational efficiency — which leads to more timely patient care.

  1. What is the role of artificial intelligence (AI)?

Most AI solutions are focused on helping radiologists prioritize their workload in the PACS environment. However, organizations should evaluate each solution’s AI capabilities — including how AI is used to streamline workflows — when determining whether PACS or RIS is the best choice. Organizations should consider what if any impact leveraging a RIS-based workflow will have on imaging-based AI solutions.

  1. How does the imaging solution work with current imaging technology and planned acquisitions?

IT teams need to consider the age of the modalities capturing images and how each imaging solution will integrate with current and future imaging technology.

“It’s important to consider how the imaging system will work across all modalities, as well as older systems, newer systems and planned purchases of future systems,” said Webb.

When looking at updating an imaging solution, thinking through these considerations can ensure that an organization makes a wise investment — and having an experienced healthcare IT consultant on the team can help guide an organization’s decision-making.

“Our team of experts can help organizations consider all their options and choose a solution that will meet their short- and long-term needs — because at the end of the day, the goal is to optimize radiologist efficiency and promote high-quality patient care,” said Jenkins.

Chris Jenkins is an executive vice president and Tim Webb is a senior healthcare IT consultant at Healthlink Advisors, a healthcare consulting firm committed to improving clinical innovation, business systems, and healthcare IT strategy, delivery, and operations. Our team has extensive experience in assisting healthcare organizations with imaging strategies, including selecting and implementing imaging solutions. To learn about how we can assist your organization, contact us at (888) 412-8686 or info@healthlinkadvisors.com.