Network Takes Medical Imaging to the Next Level
Perham Health’s PACS system makes MRIs, CT scans accessible immediately
Jim Rieber remembers the film days of medical imaging technology. He is quick to recall how much longer everything took back then.
“If we go back to the first CT scanner we had, we had a modem that we transmitted on,” says Rieber, Perham Health director of Information Systems and Facility Management. “It would take anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours to transmit the image to the radiologist to review. We used to have to take the film, go develop the film.”
Processing and transmitting each scan was tedious, time-consuming and labor-intensive. But as technology advanced and imaging evolved into a digital process, everything changed.
“Now, by the time (a scan) finishes, within seconds, they’re looking at it,” Rieber says. “As soon as they take the CT scan or MRI, they see it live, right there.”
When high-speed broadband and high-capacity networking came into the picture, a major shift occurred in the way patients receive treatment.
“The provider can be standing right there watching it, and then have instant access to know what’s going on. That’s a huge improvement in patient care and patient safety. And it’s available because of the technology and the interconnectivity that we have through our systems.”
The network structure
Perham Health’s network includes Metro Ethernet service provided by Arvig, which links the Perham campus with its regional clinics in New York Mills and Ottertail and connects the facility to its out-of-state data centers.
A Metro Ethernet or Metro E service is a virtual private network ideal for high-bandwidth applications and data transport over long distances. The service provides simple, secure and resilient connectivity between two or more locations and can be used in conjunction with other site to site connectivity options such as SD-WAN or site to site VPN connections.
Reliable connectivity is essential to Perham Health’s ability to use many digital applications to deliver high-quality care to patients.
“All of our data systems that we have in our facility communicate through that network,” Rieber says. “We’re extremely dependent upon the reliability, the security and the functionality of (our network) to be able to provide quality care.”
The network at work
One vital, connectivity-reliant system is Sanford’s Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS), which has been in use at Perham Health since 2007.
All of the medical images generated in the Imaging department—including CT scans, MRIs, X-rays, ultrasounds and mammography—are automatically uploaded to the system after a scan, stored on data center servers and then become directly accessible to everyone in the network.
“All the PACS stuff goes through the Arvig circuit until it hits the MPLS and goes to the data centers, then (the images are) available in the system.”
Multi-Protocol Label Switching, MPLS, is another networking technology that service providers can use to provide customers with connectivity between sites.
Sanford’s out-of-state data centers include locations in Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., and cities in California and Utah.
Better means bigger
Today’s advanced medical imaging technology produces highly detailed images, in some cases even in 3-D. MRIs, CT scans and other images are taken in slices—as many as 500 to 1,000 in a single scan. This process produces a significantly large data file. It’s not unusual for each scan to be a couple dozen gigabits.
A high-capacity network is essential to be able to process and transmit the image data.
“Everything we do in imaging right now is basically digital,” says Tara Nelson, Perham Health’s Imaging Coordinator. “From the time a patient gets to us, to sending the images to getting a report, we need a good connection for all of that.”
As the technology advances, the need for faster speeds, dependable connectivity and the bandwidth to support larger quantities of digital information will only grow, Rieber predicts.
“The volume of data you’re transmitting, the volume of data you’re storing and the quality of what you can see is exponentially growing leaps and bounds,” he says.
The Imaging department has a wide-reaching impact at Perham Health. Other health care units depend on its services—including chiropractic care, the emergency room, physical therapy and surgery. Imaging’s ability to quickly process and access images helps other departments deliver more efficient care.
Not long ago, the imaging process—from the start of a scan to processing a report—took hours. Now, scans are viewable almost immediately after a scan, allowing for faster access by doctors and specialists, less waiting for patients and more timely results overall.
“I can’t imagine not having the system we have now,” Nelson says. “It’s pretty crucial that we are able to send everything in a timely manner to be read, especially in traumas and emergency situations.”
Possibilities with PACS
The PACS network in itself is a major resource to medical professionals, especially at smaller facilities such as Perham Health, where time and resources have to be maximized.
A Sanford radiologist makes on-site visits to Perham Health once a week to read images, perform fluoroscopic exams and provide therapeutic pain management injections. Without network connectivity, visits would be much less effective.
“While they’re here, to make it productive for them, they’re actually pulling images from other parts of the (PACS) system and reading images from other facilities and sites in between their procedures,” Rieber says.
“If we didn’t have that ability, it wouldn’t be productive for them to come down here to do the four procedures, or five procedures that they might do,” he adds. “That whole dynamic of high speed reliability and connectivity allows you to bring more to the rural areas and serve more from the rural areas than what you ever could before.”