Medical image exchange enables organizations such as the VA and DoD to store, send, and share medical images for enhanced interoperability between organizations, physicians, and patients. The interoperability of medical images has several cost, health, and patient satisfaction benefits, including reduced repeat imaging exams and quicker treatment for trauma patients. Due to these benefits, image exchange is useful at all levels of healthcare and supports the mission of interoperability between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD). The future of healthcare relies on interoperability, and the effective exchange of images supports mission-focused healthcare, more effective trauma centers, patient satisfaction, and accessible telehealth.

Use Cases for Medical Image Exchange

A Seamless Veteran Experience

Medical image exchange is a crucial piece of Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) within the VA. This process includes transforming the system used to store and track patient health information for faster and more effective exchanges with the DoD and other VA facilities. The ability to quickly access past medical images allows for a seamless, streamlined, and multi-generational experience with public sector healthcare as service members from DoD become veterans at the VA. The uses for this level of image interoperability are vital; a service member leaving the DoD with a health problem can be treated based on past imaging by the VA. After the visit, this veteran could access their images via smartphone app, or have their images effectively transferred to a private-sector physician. Medical image interoperability plays a critical role in fulfilling the mission for premium, seamless healthcare throughout a service member’s lifetime, and its uses contribute to better health outcomes for our veterans.

Saving Lives in the Trauma Center

Beyond just the public sector, medical image exchange in trauma centers and emergency rooms (where timely care is vital to patient success) can save money, time, and patient lives. A transfer to a trauma center happens quickly, and surgeons can sometimes be ill-equipped with a patient’s accurate, prior health records and images. The effective transfer of images reduces the time and money needed to repeat imaging exams due to lost or unreadable images. With an effective image exchange system, staff within the emergency room are supplied with accessible, accurate, and readable images to prevent costly and unnecessary exploratory surgeries, repeat scans, or transfers. In the worst case, a lack of image exchange can lead to wasted time or ill-informed doctors; in a trauma center, this can be the difference between life and death for a patient.

For example, a patient arrives at a trauma center with only a CD or outdated electronic record of health information; this requires a doctor to spend extra time uploading images that may be unreadable or not helpful to a patient’s current care. The patient is then required to undergo an additional CT scan, exposing them to unnecessary radiation and increasing the time passed without a proper diagnosis. After imaging, the doctor can only make a decision based on current trauma, with a lack of knowledge regarding prior injuries or health complications. An easily-accessible record of accurate images eradicates wasted time and increases informed decision-making.

Trust in the Healthcare System

Without efficient, paperless records, physician visits can sometimes feel like a marathon of paperwork and administrative tasks. With an accessible and accurate health record, including previous medical images, physicians can enter an appointment with more knowledge and a stronger focus on diagnoses and developing treatment. Occasionally, doctors experience technical difficulties with loading images, or previous images are supplied in unreadable formats. This requires repeat imaging, costing the patient time and trust in the healthcare experience. Doctors equipped with an effective image exchange system instill greater confidence, comfort, and satisfaction in their patient visits by being well-informed and focused on the right tasks. Patients then spend less time at the hospital and are more likely to receive and follow an effective treatment plan. For a patient accustomed to taking repeat images or a patient who is typically hesitant to follow professional health guidance, this difference in wait time, visit time, and lab time is vital in ensuring a positive experience and return to the facility when needed.

What Next? Driving Healthcare for the Digital Age

A modernized system for medical image exchange is key in digitizing healthcare, making it more accessible in rural areas and busy emergency rooms. Modernizing medical image exchange to achieve interoperability is one of the first steps in a holistically-digital system, one that allows patients to view health records through user-friendly apps and offers trauma nurses a bedside review of each patient. Making medical images mobile is a sustainable and accessible choice for the future of healthcare, with both hospital efficiency and public health implications. Telehealth and medical image digitization give patients who may be unable to be physically present in a traditional doctor-patient setting the chance to receive professional guidance and treatment. Telehealth and digital records are the future in healthcare, and implementing systems for effective medical image exchange is a step toward a fully-interoperable industry.