While I think we all recognize that modern technology has made medicine even better, I don’t think most of us realize all the things that happen behind the scenes to let doctors work together. One perfect example is picture archiving and communication systems, better known as PACS systems. PACS systems took all of the available testing images like x-rays or MRIs and put them on a network so that the radiologist, the hospital, and all physicians have immediate access.
Even though each doctor’s office, radiology office, and hospital have their own PACS systems, the systems are designed to integrate. Many hospital systems have additional networking that allows for the sharing of a patient’s entire record with all the health care professionals that need access to treat the patient. The PACS systems also integrate with this sort of network.
While the patient may not be aware that all this networking is taking place, the fact of the matter is that the networking results in better care for the patient. Let’s take the example of the patient that has a stroke at 45 years of age. They go to the hospital where the stroke is diagnosed, and an MRI is done to determine the extent of the damage. The patient’s primary care physician is notified and sees the patient in the hospital.
Upon being released from the hospital, the patient meets with their primary care physician and is referred to a cardiologist for additional evaluation. The cardiologist orders an echocardiogram with contrast and a stress test. The patient goes to a cardiology lab to have these tests done. When the testing is complete, all of the records are uploaded to the PACS systems and are then accessible by both the cardiologist and the primary care physician.
Based on the results, the cardiologist and primary care physician discuss the case and also decide to order an angiogram. The angiogram is completed at the hospital, and the images are uploaded to the PACS systems. The cardiologist and primary care physician review the results and again confer to decide the best course of action.
The cardiologist prescribes for the patient and explains to the patient the test results. However, when the patient needs a refill, they can go back to their primary care physician for the refill. The primary care physician can see precisely what the cardiologist prescribed and can continue managing the case without the patient having to go back to the cardiologist for a simple refill.
Several years go by, and the patient doesn’t have any problems. However, they are admitted to the hospital after a car accident. The hospital is immediately able to access the patient’s complete medical history, including all of the images and test results, to use for comparison purposes. Because the patient is having difficulty with their vision, a CT scan is ordered, and these test results are also uploaded to the PACS systems where everyone has access. The hospital releases the patient but recommends following up with the primary care physician.
A few days later, the primary care physician sees the patient and can review the CT scan images and report to decide what additional action is needed. Based on the patient’s history, the decision is made to more closely follow the patient because the accident could result in a new clot. For the next two weeks, the patient sees the primary care physician each week and, in the second week, has an additional CT scan to ensure that there is no permanent damage.