On average, PACS systems are being replaced every five to seven years. When a facility must choose a new system, there are many factors to take into consideration.
During the recent Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting at Chicago, Imaging Technology News editors polled several PACS vendors about what they consider to be key factors. Following is a recap of their thoughts:
• Data migration — How the data will be moved into the new system is a top consideration mentioned by all. As noted by Deborah Reed, marketing manager for Infinitt North America, “You have to think about all that old data, which often is in several different archives, different media and different systems.”
• Think beyond the radiology department — George Kovacs, director of product marketing for McKesson’s medical imaging group, said traditional departments are realizing that the PACS is not just a system for the radiology department any more. Kovacs uses a new descriptive term, “enterprise image repository,” which should have easy access from any application that needs it.
Sectra’s director of product marketing, Mats Bjornemo, also pointed out the importance of support outside of the radiology department and integration into clinical pathways. “There needs to be support for referring physicians outside the department,” he said, “and flexibility for sharing images across department boundaries and facilities.”
• Interoperability — Both Kovacs and Bjornemo said a PACS system should integrate with other vendors’ systems.
• Business continuity — This includes issues like disaster recovery and data lifecycle management. “How long should a study be saved?” Kovacs said. “There are legal requirements, potential use in future research, etc. And this needs to be balanced against storage capacity.”
“Today we have to handle images with huge datasets, with hybrid images especially,” said Bjornemo. “You have to make sure they will not choke your system.”
• Training — What will the transition process be? How will training be done? These are other important questions to ask of a PACS vendor.
• Cost — The bottom line is always important, but the scenario is a little different when it comes to replacing an old PACS system, Reed said. “We used to be talking about a PACS system versus film, and it was easy to prove the cost benefits and return on investment. But today, when it’s a new PACS system compared to an old one, it is not as easy to show cost savings.
“We know that some old PACS systems aren’t performing up to par and there are integration issues,” she added. “But it’s harder to quantify cost benefits of PACS versus PACS, and this may keep some facilities from changing.”
The cost of service agreements also comes into play when replacing a PACS, said Steve Deaton, Viztek’s vice president of sales. He also advises companies to make sure that the system they buy is as rich in features as possible. “They probably have spent the last ‘x’ amount of years using an old product. Sometimes they see something and think, ‘Oh, this is better. Let’s go here.’ But there are a lot of PACS companies and only a few are floating to the top and provide a nice feature set in an easy-to-use package.”