Published on Wed, 12/17/2008 by Canada Health Infoway

ATTN: ALBERTA NEWS/HEALTH EDITORS - Digital technology saving lives in Alberta

Alberta's digital diagnostic imaging and electronic health record network is helping to save lives across the province. That's because patients can get same-day results from key medical tests, and faster access to treatment.

Digitized diagnostic images, including x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI and CT scans, allow clinicians to view patient images no matter where the test was conducted or the location of the clinician. The sharing and remote access to images is enabled by Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS).

PACS technology enables a doctor to send patients to a nearby clinic for tests, and within the same day an accurate diagnosis is already available, says Dr. Bill Anderson, radiologist with Capital Health in Edmonton and regional clinical program director for radiology and imaging at Alberta Health Service.

Dr. Anderson cites one case in Edmonton, where an 82-year-old woman was brought to the family doctor after having a persistent cough for two weeks. The doctor sent her for an x-ray and by the time the test was done and the patient returned to his office, the doctor was able to tell her she needed antibiotics for pneumonia.

"It was not just a relief and excellent care for a frail, elderly patient, but also for her daughter who was juggling care for her mother with the responsibilities of her own family," said Anderson.

Richard Alvarez, president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway (Infoway), says PACS - funded in partnership with the provinces and territories - could benefit some 26 million Canadians by March 31, 2009. "PACS improves productivity for doctors, technologists and radiologists, as well as access to care. People get their diagnosis twice as fast, so treatment can begin much sooner."

Anderson says by the spring of 2009 Edmonton-area clinics and hospitals should have all diagnostic images online, as well as electronic health records.

An independent study commissioned by Infoway evaluated the benefits of digital diagnostic imaging and PACS. Reduced time to treat patients, improved quality of patient management, faster diagnosis, shorter hospital stays, fewer duplicate exams and better use of financial and human resources lead the list.

Anderson says PACS promotes co-operation between hospitals with different subspecialties. He notes the case of a 28-year-old man brought to the hospital from a serious car accident. His diagnostic images showed an aortic tear that needed the expertise of a multi-trauma repair team.

A thoracic team, a vascular team and a radiologist specialist had to work together from different sites. With PACS, the specialists could view the images and prepare for the patient's care while he was being transferred to a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment.

"It really saves lives, and makes for a formidable, well-prepared team," he says.

Infoway, an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government, jointly invests with every province and territory to accelerate the development and adoption of electronic health record projects, including PACS. These secure systems provide the information clinicians need to better support safe care decisions and the information patients need to manage their own health.

To learn more about the difference electronic health record investments are making to the health care of Canadians, visit www.infoway-inforoute.ca.

Digital diagnostic imaging benefits: By the numbers

The benefits of digital diagnostic imaging (DI) systems to Canadians and their health care providers are making a difference every single day across the country. Personal stories attest to the human value of the $337 million Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) has invested in 22 Canadian DI and related projects to date. But when you look at the cold hard facts, the picture is even more impressive. By the end of March, 2009, Infoway estimates 79 per cent of Canadians could benefit from these systems.

How? By the numbers, the use of digitized imaging and supporting systems, known as PACS (Picture Archiving and Communications Systems) will:

1. Create up to 30 per cent improvement in radiologists' productivity. That's equivalent to the work of more than 500 radiologists in our health care system.

2. Enable up to 30 per cent improvement in technologists' productivity, which is equal to the work of another 2,900 technologists in our health care system.

3. Allow doctors to save up to 60 minutes a week in decision-making time, which translates to the work of another 500 doctors in our health care system. This time-saving works out to seven million 10-minute physician consults each year.

4. Improve exam report turnaround times by as much as 40 per cent, enabling quicker clinical decisions and more timely treatment.

5. Eliminate as many as 17,000 unnecessary patient transfers between health care facilities. As well, up to one million unnecessary exams are eliminated each year.

6. As many as 40 per cent of radiologists report using PACS to provide services to new or remote sites, improving access in remote geographic areas and populations.

7. Generate up to $1 billion a year in health system efficiencies through increased clinical productivity and reduced patient transfers, duplicate exams and film costs, once PACS is fully in place across the country.

It all adds up to improved access and quality of care for patients and greater productivity for clinicians. To learn more, visit www.infoway-inforoute.ca.

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For more information contact:

Dan Strasbourg
Canada Health Infoway
416.595.3424
dstrasbourg@infoway-inforoute.ca