A new computerised system for storing and sharing x-rays and other images is set to bring major benefits to thousands of patients at Northern Devon Healthcare Trust.
The Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) – launched this month-puts the Trust at the cutting edge of technology, with the capacity to speed up diagnosis and to reduce travelling and waits for patients.
Over the coming weeks, the full system will also be extended from North Devon District Hospital to the x-ray departments at Ilfracombe and Bideford community hospitals, enabling consultants at the main site to give instant opinions.
The Trust takes approximately 200 x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and ultrasounds a day – around 75,000 a year.
As well as speeding up diagnosis, PACS is being integrated with software that will automatically generate letters to patients and enable appointments to be booked. Next month, a further step should see the results from images being sent directly to GPs’ computers, rather than having to be sent by post.
Electronic image sharing with major treatment centres in Plymouth and Bristol is also underway to improve the speed of diagnosis and ultimately treatment.
X-rays and scans used to be stored on paper and film, which meant that images could be lost or misplaced because there was only one set. They also had to be retrieved and shipped around sites. Now, doctors can bring up the electronic images instantly, using computer screens rather than old-style lightboxes.
Digital images also mean hospital staff no longer have to handle the chemicals they used to need for processing the x-ray films.
Paul Treweeke, Senior Consultant Radiologist, said:
“PACS is probably the biggest revolution that’s ever occurred across the whole of radiology. Images of all types – CT scans, MRI scans, ultrasound or plain x-ray – are now instantly available on computer screen straight after the examination has been performed.
“Doctors on the wards can see the images before a patient has even returned to the ward or clinic.
“All the huge amount of time and effort spent sorting and filing films will disappear and it’s much quicker and easier for the examinations to be viewed and reported by the radiologists. The days of films being ‘lost in the system’ are over.”
Once PACS is up and running nationally, trusts will have access to digital images in NHS organisations throughout England. This means that, in time, if a patient has an accident while away from home, they can be treated at the nearest hospital. When they return home, their images will also be available at their local trust – helping to continue their treatment quickly and easily.
Neil Scholfield, Radiology Services Manager said:
“We’re delighted with our new PACS system, which is real cutting-edge technology for Northern Devon Healthcare Trust. This puts our diagnostic imaging services up there with the best in the country and will make great improvements for our patients.
We’d like to thank all radiology patients who have come into the department during the last two months for their patience when there have been inevitable delays concerned with introducing various aspects of the new PACS service.
Many different people from across Northern Devon Healthcare have been involved in installing PACS – it has been a real case of good teamwork which has allowed us to make it happen. ”
For more information about PACS from NHS Connecting for Health visit www.connectingforhealth.nhs.uk/pacs