KLAS: Providers seek vendor-neutrality for enterprise image management

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Many hospitals are considering new vendor-neutral solutions for archiving and accessing medical images to avoid being locked into closed, proprietary software, according to a report from market research firm KLAS.

In Enterprise Imaging: A Vendor Reality Check, the comapny's analysts examined the enterprise imaging market and explored the vendor solutions healthcare providers are considering. The study found that while many providers are looking to their PACS vendor as a likely enterprise imaging partner, they also recognize the potential pitfalls of getting locked into a proprietary solution that may not translate well from one department to another.

"Traditional PACS vendors like Philips [Healthcare], GE [Healthcare], McKesson and Fujifilm [Medical Systems] were frequently mentioned by providers as likely candidates for an enterprise imaging solution," said report author Ben Brown, general manager of imaging informatics for KLAS. "But those same providers were also adamant that they want to own their image data and not leave it hostage to the PACS vendor.

"A number of hospitals are beginning to take ownership of their medical images by building PACS-neutral archives and storage management layers," Brown said. "This approach allows the PACS to simply become a physician-friendly viewing and interaction layer that can be upgraded or replaced without the typically painful migration."

Outside of PACS, many providers also referenced storage and archive solution vendors, such as EMC, IBM and Hewlett Packard (HP), as potential enterprise imaging partners. The authors noted that each of those companies has partnered with middleware vendors--EMC with Acuo Technologies and IBM and HP with Bycast--to deliver vendor-neutral archive products that federate data from DICOM applications or storage layers.

The analysts also found that similar solutions from DeJarnette Research Systems and TeraMedica Healthcare Technology also enjoy some mindshare with providers. In addition, as the amount of imaging data being archived continues to grow, some providers have looked to outsource their archive and image management to companies such as GE, InSite One and Philips.

In total, KLAS found that Philips was the most frequently mentioned enterprise imaging vendor, followed by GE, McKesson, EMC, Fujifilm, Agfa HealthCare, IBM, Siemens Healthcare, Amicas (Emageon) and HP.

"Philips, in particular, poses interesting questions for providers. As the vendor most frequently associated with enterprise imaging, Philips owns tremendous mindshare in the imaging space, offering widely deployed solutions in PACS, cardiology PACS and other areas. At the same time, Philips had the highest number of clients report the possibility of replacing its cardiology solution, and the company's cardiology strategy has been criticized for being somewhat confusing and fragmented," the authors wrote.

The KLAS report noted that while radiology, nuclear medicine and cardiology enjoy significant adoption of digital imaging management equipment, other departments such as oncology, endoscopy and pathology are still fairly immature in their use of the technology.

Among those, digital pathology brings with it a number of challenges, including enormous data sets that can adversely affect image distribution and transfer speeds. Some industry experts estimate that pathology images represent a larger data volume than all other imaging specialties combined, the authors suggested.