Nova Scotia PACS is an x-ray vision

As far as x-ray technology goes Nova Scotia will soon be completely filmless, the second province to do so after Prince Edward Island, as a result of a province-wide digital imaging system.

In partnership with Agfa Inc., and Canada Health Infoway, the Nova Scotia Department of Health invested more than $10 million in a project that will see Agfa’s IMPAX Picture Archive and Communications System (PACS) rolled out to 49 hospital sites.

The implementation is about 96 per cent complete, and will benefit patients, physicians and radiologists, said Michael Green, Agfa’s vice president of Health care.

“The radiologists are now able to look at a lot more cases per day, and in Canada there’s generally a shortage of radiologists,” said Green. “At the same time the number of examinations that are being done is increasing, so it makes them more efficient, and they’re able to look at more patients in a shorter period of time.”

It’s a system that allows for faster diagnostic services, according to Dr. Charles Lo, chief of diagnostic imaging for Capital Health, an integrated health district in Atlantic Canada.

“It’s not only a matter of speed, which obviously digital information provides, it’s also a management system for radiologists,” said Lo.

With the previous system, radiologists would have to retrieve all the studies, sometimes as many as 40 films, said Lo. “These are now readily available on the screen, so we can look at them without having to physically put up 40 pieces of plastic on a viewing screen.”

Green said that another benefit is the reduction of travel, because with the PACS system, the images can be shared province-wide.

“If someone is in a remote site, the patient can have a tele-radiography consult in Halifax, so they don’t have to make the journey,” he said. “All the hospitals in Nova Scotia have to be linked together by a network, and one of the challenges was the speed of the network was not particularly high in every area.”

He added that with a massive project like this, it has to be synchronized in such a way that all the physicians and radiologists receive proper training, and there are also change management issues as it affects their working practices.

Personnel resources are freed up because they don’t need to retrieve previous tests, as they are now able to quickly review what has been done before, as tests can be archived in the system, according to Lo.

“PACS has streamlined the type of work we used to do into a more concise management package,” he said.

Currently they’re only able to retrieve the radiology information on a patient, but eventually with an electronic enterprise system, they could have lab tests, charts, etc. available online.

“We’re not quite there yet, but I think in the future we should be able to have that capability.”

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