Being linked with one of the world’s largest shared digital imaging networks enables little hospitals to provide better access to patient care, according to one diagnostic imaging project lead. The Thames Valley Digital Imaging Network allows smaller rural hospitals to exchange diagnostic images electronically.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg for the Thames Valley Digital Imaging Network.

“This is the first step for the electronic patient record (EHR),” said Rob VanDoninck, director of Diagnostic Imaging and Laboratory Services for both Alexandra Hospital and Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital. “With x-ray images, lab results and consultation reports, from top-to-bottom in an electronic form, (hospital staff) can do a much better job.”

The Thames Valley Digital Imaging Network allows smaller rural hospitals, such as Alexandra’s 35-bed facility, to exchange diagnostic images electronically with the seven other Thames Valley hospitals, the hospital said in a statement. Sharing these images increases access to radiologists, nuclear medicine physicians and other specialists at tertiary care hospitals.

“Our report turnaround time has been cut by at least a day,” VanDonink said. “From the time an image is taken, to the time the radiologist reads it, to the time it is typeset and made available on the Cerner (clinical information) system for the doctors, is now four or five hours.”

Using film and paper is totally inefficient, because only one physician can use it at any one time, he said.

“We are saving a great deal of time hospital-wide,” VanDonink said. “Now, reports are available quicker and doctors don’t have to come to our department to see images. If they’re in emergency they can quickly tap on the system and have all patient information.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and Canada Health Infoway are jointly funding this project.

To ensure accountability, Infoway reimburses projects as pre-determined milestones are completed. On October 14, Infoway presented Alexandra Hospital with $208,082 for their portion of the Thames Valley Digital Imaging Network project fund.

“Thames Valley was one of the first groups in Canada to implement digital imaging,” said Richard Alvarez, president and CEO, Canada Health Infoway. “Seeing them achieve project milestones is very exciting.”

This is a clear example of how working together can improve productivity, safety and quality of care, he added.

Alvarez said Infoway currently has diagnostic imaging projects planned or underway in every Canadian province and territory.