By Jamie Clifton

In his May 1 blog, Time to Retire the term “VNA”?, Joe Marion, Founder and Principal of Healthcare Integration Strategies, makes a sound case for abolishing an outdated term, VNA or Vendor Neutral Archive.  While I agree with much of Joe’s argument, I’d like to take it a bit further.

The VNA term was coined to describe better management of medical imaging. The original thinking around VNA was formed in radiology circles, which makes sense since radiology is one of the better managed areas of healthcare and one of the first to fully embrace the digital world.

Over time, the VNA became synonymous with PACS and the management of medical images. The VNA enabled healthcare organizations to “own” their own medical content so that it was not wholly controlled by the PACS application. Today, each VNA is as unique as the hospital that deploys it. Some require the image archive to solve sharing issues, while others require that their VNA help them better manage storage of their data.

At BridgeHead Software, we have always believed that a VNA should not aim to replace large portions of the existing PACS, since these are already deployed and exist for managing images. Nor should the VNA replicate functionality already offered by the PACS –  this would add extra management overhead and create inefficiencies. However, the VNA does need to include other departments beyond radiology in order to be effective and viable, and the term VNA no longer defines just what this evolving archive should do.

Global healthcare policies are pressuring hospitals to deliver a holistic patient record to increase efficiencies in care delivery and to provide clinicians with all of the valuable information they need, at the point of care, to enable better decision making and improved patient outcomes. The advent of the electronic patient record (EPR) makes it painfully clear that the traditional VNA, as we’ve come to know it, is woefully inadequate for providing a full view of the patient across the care continuum.

But if VNA is going to be retired, what will take its place? A phrase I use is Independent Clinical Archive (ICA). I have been in the “archive” space for approximately 20 years, and in all that time there has been a desire to replace the word “archive.” This has never happened because, at the end of the day, it is an archive, and it describes the storing and managing of data. The ICA term goes one step further in defining the next-generation evolution of the medical archive concept beyond the traditional vendor neutral archive.

At BridgeHead Software, we’ve introduced HealthStore® ICA, a “next-generation VNA” that delivers a single, easily-accessible and standards-based software repository for all healthcare data. By extending beyond the traditional VNA, HealthStore enables hospitals to manage the information lifecycle of data across the entire healthcare enterprise – both clinical and non-clinical data – whether within a hospital, medical facility or across organizations. It also allows hospitals to standardize access to key elements of the patient record while simultaneously freeing them from dependence on any single system to locate the information.

The Independent Clinical Archive, as BridgeHead defines it:

  1. Supports the provision of the electronic patient record – by providing a consistent mechanism for managing, the static or reference data that is vital in providing the full history associated with a patient.
  2. Involves more than just one ‘ology – by consolidating data from many clinical departments, such as radiology, cardiology, ophthalmology, oncology, pathology, etc.
  3. Delivers standards-based integration — with any clinical data source (HL7, unstructured files, DICOM and XDS).
  4. Provides application and storage independence – by separating the data from the application that created it and the infrastructure on which it currently resides, the ICA can maintain its own meta-data to ensure content is accessible and clinically useful into the future.

The healthcare market is acknowledging that the Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) is no longer sufficient. What’s needed is an Independent Clinical Archive with the broader capabilities to consolidate access to and the management of all of a hospital’s data. As the ICA continues to evolve into an accessible, standards-based data store, hospitals will find it easier to view, search and drive more value out of their archive data than ever before and have all of the data regarding a patient in one source.

Read more about the potential of the ICA in the BridgeHead blog:  “Beyond a VNA – the Independent Clinical Archive