Electronic Image Sharing: Just What Meaningful Use Ordered – and Just What Merge is Delivering

Radiology reports and imaging studies are routinely delivered via CD or fax to physician practices across the country – a step up from horse-and-buggy inefficiency, but not quite the breakneck speed that physicians and patients deserve in this age of instant communication.

But that’s all about to change as the government continues to up the ante in its EHR adoption program, which is funneling billions of incentive dollars to healthcare providers who comply with various provisions to qualify for their share of the government monies. More specifically, during Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program, physician practices are being required to order 30% of images electronically and receive 10% of results electronically.

As such, while provider organizations formerly might have thought of the electronic transmission of images as a “nice-to-have,” in the very near future, many of these medical practices are apt to demand that imaging centers provide the means to transfer images over the electronic transom. 

The big question: Will imaging centers be ready to meet this sudden uptick in demand for electronic processing?

Building one-to-one connections to EHRs is one way to address the challenge. The problem: It’s costly and cumbersome.

“A market might have some 500 physicians – and those physicians could be using 20 different EHRs. In fact, in one market we recently were working in, there were 38 different EHRs,” says Steve Tolle, Chief Product Officer of Merge Healthcare Inc., a Chicago-based provider of clinical systems and innovations that seek to transform healthcare.

Merge is providing an alternative. iConnect Network enables imaging centers to share imaging information with referring physicians and hospitals that are connected to Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) or EHR networks, such as the Surescripts Network for Clinical Interoperability. Any imaging center on the iConnect Network can easily and securely share report data and link to images with any physician using an EHR on a certified network without needing to build costly point-to-point interfaces. This allows customers to not only support MU Stage 2 requirements, but also strengthen their relationships with referring physicians.

 “There really was not that much need to build these connections before because the demand was not that strong. But now that many healthcare providers have EHRs, they expect faster turnaround from imaging centers. Meaningful Use adds gasoline to the fire,” Tolle says. “So, we are solving a problem that many imaging centers are just now discovering that they need to deal with.”

The iConnect Network is using Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to create a single national network. Direct Project Secure Messaging is used to send radiology reports across the network to referring physicians. Instead of actually sending images – which are difficult to transport electronically because of their size – across the network, the report simply contains a URL that points the physicians to the image.

With this technology in place, imaging centers are able to:

  • Eliminate the cost and time of sending reports via fax or mail
  • Provide reports as structured data to be entered into the physicians’ or hospitals’ EHR
  • Link to image studies online instead of burning and sending CDs, saving considerable time and money