People often talk about ‘backing up’ images. This article will answer some frequently asked questions and give you further information on why it is important to back up your images. We will also then explain how a PACS image management system can not only make this easy but how it can even simplify your diagnostic imaging workflow.
Why do I need to back up my images? They are on my computer, and computers don’t go wrong, do they?!
All computers can fail. There can be many reasons, but often it is due to a hard drive becoming corrupt or physical damage.
If only a single copy of data is stored and there is a problem, everything can be lost. While sometimes when a computer’s hard drive fails it is possible to recover the data, this is a difficult and time-consuming process that is not always successful.
I get my nurses to put JPEGs onto the patient records, surely this is enough?
No. A JPEG is only a compressed image.
In comparison to a DICOM (the original format of a medical image), there is far less information. A JPEG can also be altered by anyone, so if you need to provide patient records during the course of a legal dispute, they are a far less trustworthy source of findings.
Have you also considered how much time your staff are spending saving and transferring images to the practice management system? PACS can be automatic,therefore saves a lot of time - and we all know that when busy, sometimes things can be forgotten!
I have a small practice, surely the JPEGS are fine?
No, RCVS practice guidelines state ‘Original Diagnostic images should be retained for an appropriate period’; ideally this is at least the lifetime of the animal (around 7 years is widely accepted as normal). It is advisable to check with your indemnity insurer for their individual recommendations for your practice.
Why spend so much on PACS? I can just back up onto an extra hard drive, can’t I?
Part of the beauty of PACS is the ability to easily share and communicate your images with fellow professionals and depending upon the type of PACS, you can also access images remotely.
If images are backed up onto an external hard drive, it can be hard to find an individual patient and share the images. A backup hard drive is not normally organised, so if you need to search for a specific patient by name, date or patient ID number, it is usually impossible.
When transferred to PACS, your images are organised, so searching for an individual patient by specific criteria is as easy as finding them on your acquisition system. Finding historical patient data is quick and easy.
What else does PACS do?
Most PACS systems retain all the image manipulation functions of your X-ray system and for the orthopods amongst us, it can offer multiple extra features (calibrated measuring tools) thus allowing for better surgical planning. Retaining the original DICOM image is imperative, image manipulation to aid diagnostic purpose is not possible with JPEGS.
You also have the luxury of being able to view different imaging modalities simultaneously including CT and MRI. PACS allows manipulation of CT images with all the functionality of your CT acquisition software, including the ability to perform 3D reconstructions and send patient data direct to a telemedicine service.
What about using a free DICOM viewer downloaded from the internet?
There are some great free DICOM viewers, but you must remember that PACS is more than just viewing software; it also includes image management. PACS software organises your data allowing for easy searching and recall of historical patient data.
Don’t forget, if you buy a PACS system you have the support of the vendor if you encounter a problem.
How many copies of my images should i have?
Ideally you should have at least two copies of all images, one of which is off site to ensure you are protected from fire, flood or theft.
The primary storage device can be the acquisition device. A second copy should be stored on your PACS system and depending on whether this is a cloud-based PACS system or a hard drive, it may be appropriate to have a third copy stored at an off-site location.