By Jamie Clifton, VP of Product Management and Solutions, BridgeHead Software

In today’s rapidly-changing healthcare sector, it’s hard to imagine what patient data will look like in ten years, seven years or even five years from now. We know there will be a lot more of it and its value in the delivery of care will only continue to grow, but no one can say for certain what type of data will need to be stored, protected or shared.

Yet, NHS Trusts are making important decisions about how their data will be managed in the future based on what’s available today. These decisions are often based on the path of least resistance, or at least the one perceived as such, rather than the one that will serve them well in the longer term and address their future requirements around data management.

Let’s take imaging data; we know that a number of Picture Archive and Communications System (PACS) contracts are coming to an end. Those contracts will most likely be renewed with the existing provider or replaced with a similar system from a new vendor. Either way, these PACS contracts could see Trusts committed to a vendor for another five, seven or ten years. However, this image data is often linked to the application that created it (tethered to the PACS), making plans for migration seem like a complex and/or costly process. This is known as ‘vendor lock-in’ and is commonplace in the NHS.

This led me to write an article for Building Better Healthcare suggesting that PACS contract renewals present the perfect opportunity for Trusts to reassess their overall data management strategy and explore the options available to them.

Interoperability – the future for image sharing

In the article, I suggest that Trusts avoid PACS to PACS image migrations, instead favouring the use of a Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) or an Independent Clinical Archive (ICA) approach, whereby data is transformed to a standards-based format, for data interoperability, and ingested into a central, clinical repository. In doing so, Trusts can make this radiology image migration the last they ever make, creating a future-proof environment for patient data, accessible not only by the PACS, but other primary systems such as the EPR. This is increasingly important as NHS initiatives such as Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) and Local Digital Roadmaps (LDRs) strive for more efficient and effective models of care delivery going forward.

At BridgeHead, we have long held the view that patient data is a strategic asset that should be viewed independently from the application that creates it. We believe that Trusts should adopt a truly-agnostic and separate repository for data. A VNA or ICA sits alongside and integrates with the PACS, EPR or other critical systems to offer a single, enterprise-wide repository for all clinical imaging and referenceable patient information. By separating the application from the information within, Trusts can free themselves from ‘vendor lock in’, giving them far greater freedom on how they store, protect and share patient data in the future.

So, we urge the NHS to take this opportunity to consider their patient data management strategy before replacing or renewing their PACS, EPR or any other core system.

If you would like further information or wish to discuss the above, please email me at Jamie.clifton@bridgeheadsoftware.com.

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