19 Dec 2016

RSNA in Perspective: Streamlining Workflows, Reducing Costs, Improving Outcomes

Tim Dawson, Vice President of Technology, Vital Images, Inc.

Post-RSNA articles usually contain a lot of observations, “top X” lists, and similar… often lacking much in the way of perspective about what it all means. I took the week following RSNA to reflect and capture some of that perspective.  Five things bubbled to the top of the list:

1. Modular Enterprise Imaging (aka “Deconstructed PACS”)

After many discussions with customers and partners I feel even more confident about my last blog regarding “personalized viewing.” Providers don’t have time to waste using tools that aren’t purpose-built. The modular approach allows multiple tools to be brought to bear, rather than living with one-size-fits-all solutions.

Additionally, IT doesn’t have time to piece together everything from a dozen vendors, but also doesn’t want to be locked into a single vendor. A great quote I heard was, “When there’s only one throat to choke, the tables can turn and you end up being the one getting choked.”  Providers need the ability to disconnect from a vendor when part (or all) of their solution no longer meets the needs of the organization.


2. Data Analytics

Once again, this year’s show brought a number of vendors touting analytics solutions, often products focused primarily on providing clinical metrics from individual silos of data.

Judging by the high level of interest in our analytics products and the great feedback we received from visitors to our booth, it is evident that there is a real need for solutions that provide a holistic view of operational metrics to service line leaders to support the management of their businesses.  Customers are often stunned when they discover how elegantly they could aggregate information from different sources and present it in an easy to interpret interface. By managing the business more effectively, providers can reduce inefficiencies and unlock resources needed for investments to improve quality of service and outcomes.


3. Cloud

Healthcare IT is finally ready for the cloud… and this isn’t just from the fluffy cloud images on the booths of several vendors. Early in November we had a number of discussions with healthcare CIOs at CHIME and the sentiment echoed through quite a few of those conversations. Many CIOs simply don’t want to invest capital budgets in data centers, and they’ve gotten used to the idea of having data outside their walls. Of course, they must retain ownership of the data even if they no longer physically hold it.


4. 3D Printing

Given our 3D advanced visualization heritage, we’ve been proponents of 3D printing for years. Both last year and this year we sponsored meetings of industry leaders and had a dedicated section of our booth showing what we, our customers, and our partners are doing in this area.  This year we had a lot of company.  3D models were everywhere on the show floor and use cases are going beyond surgical planning into exploring tissues and organs.


5. Deep Learning (or Machine Vision or Artificial Intelligence, whatever you want to call it)

There were a quite a few people talking about deep learning, but not as many as I expected. The consensus is that it’s coming, not quite here, but is definitely going to shake things up. Uses from advanced visualization auto segmentation to identification of disease to automated diagnosis are all in the future… it’s only a matter of time. Some are skeptical, others actually fear the future, but that typically happens with any new technology change.  (Remember radiologists who would “never read from a computer screen”?)


So, to go beyond the typical list of cool and interesting things, the common thread that emerges from this is the over-arching need to streamline, to reduce costs, to improve outcomes. Everybody knows there’s a revolution going on in healthcare – reimbursements are going down and expectations are going up. We can’t continue to play the same old game. The days are numbered for traditional fee-for-service models – this is being pushed by payers but was inevitable with the advent of high-deductible plans. Patients were already starting to take control and make more proactive decisions about how their healthcare dollars are spent – inherently focusing on costs and outcomes.

In the past, many technology advances have been held back on the basis of whether or not they would be reimbursed. With bundled payments and other outcome-based approaches, this becomes less important. What matters now is whether something improves quality and reduces cost, and of course has the necessary regulatory clearances!

I have to say we are lucky to be working in a very exciting time in healthcare and I personally am looking forward to helping our customers change the world.