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Despite the widespread use of medical imaging as a diagnostic tool, many providers who order imaging tests for their patients see the radiologists’ reports, but not the images themselves.
But with the Meaningful Use (MU) incentive program, that’s beginning to change.
Under MU Stage 2, providers who hope to qualify for incentive payments will need, at the very least, to have access to 10 percent of the images they’ve ordered. That new threshold, combined with the fact that more than half of the nation’s physicians now use electronic health records (EHRs), is leading to big changes for both providers and health IT vendors.
To help move the healthcare sector to a new level of connectivity, Merge Healthcare recently announced that it will connect its imaging network with Surescripts Network for Clinical Interoperability.
According to Steve Tolle, Merge’s senior vice president of solutions, the primary advantage of the new alliance is that Merge network participants, who account for upwards of 80 million image exams per year, “can now reliably transport radiologist reports, with links to the diagnostic image, right into their EHR” via the Surescripts connection.
Noting that under the MU Stage 2 rules, 37 million ambulatory image exams will now have to be viewed by doctors who could previously just look at the written report, Tolle pointed out that the new alliance will solve “the problem of scale, cost and capacity.”
In other words, whereas to date, vendors have been building individual interfaces for providers and imaging centers, an option that the new regulations have rendered impractical, the Merge-Surescripts connection will give providers and radiologists a significantly faster and more efficient way of exchanging test results.
Gone will be the days of faxing orders and faxing back reports. Now providers will be able to order tests from within their patients’ EHRs, then see the resulting images, again with the EHRs, as soon as the radiologists sign off on the report.
“It’s a level of service that providers just can’t get today,” Tolle said. He added that while the new relationship with Surescripts is focused on radiology, Merge intends to similarly enhance its cardiology and orthopedic services as well.
Moreover, Tolle said, services provided by the new Merge-Surescripts alliance will be available both to current Merge customers and users of other imaging solutions. Merge’s Honeycomb™ cloud-based image sharing solution works with any PACS system, while the Merge Surescripts-based report delivery solution will work with any RIS.
And, Tolle added, Merge is currently looking for new channel partners. “It’s the only way we can get to where we need to from an interoperability perspective. There’s just not enough time or money to continue building individual interfaces.”