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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Leaves the Days of Large, Brown X-Ray Envelopes Behind

October 29, 2003

Houston VA Leaves the Days of Large, Brown X-Ray Envelopes Behind

Conventional processed plain films have been replaced with convenient, computerized, digital images.

Released: 2003/10/29

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HVAMC Diagnostic and Therapeutic Care Line Executive Meena Vij, M.D. (right) and Rebecca Matejowsky M.D., staff radiologist analyze the computerized Computed Tomography Scan (CT) of a veteran with stomach pain. With a filmless radiology department, images are conveniently available for quick viewing on any computer in the Houston VA Medical Center.

Photo by: Shawn D. James, HVAMC Media Section

HOUSTON, TX - Remember the days of doctors, nurses, and veterans lugging around those huge, brown envelopes with giant X-ray films inside? If you wanted to take a peek at your sinus cavity X-rays, you had to be very careful not to get fingerprints on the film. And then there was the problem of where to store those unwieldy things. Well, those days and those problems are a thing of the past at the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC).

HVAMC has entered the remarkable world of the Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) and is transitioning to a filmless radiology department. Traditional radiology film is now a thing of the past and has largely been phased out in this medical center.

Conventional processed plain films have been replaced with digital images stored on a special computer system called the VistA Imaging System PACS. These computerized images are available for viewing on any computer in the medical center - be it a computer in the Emergency Room or a computer in your Prime Care Provider's office.

Radiology images including plain films, fluoroscopy, Computed Tomography Scan (CT), angiography and special procedures, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and ultrasound are sent directly sent to the VistA Imaging System for storage. The images are immediately available for interpreting radiologists and other clinicians throughout the hospital.

The HVAMC has found digital images have quite a few advantages: 1) Elimination of environmental hazards associated with chemical film processing; 2) Faster turn around of radiology examinations with images made available to health care providers immediately after the examination has been completed and the images sent to the PACS system; 3) Internal improvement of the HVAMC imaging operation and communication systems; 4) Operational efficiency because film no longer has to be printed, distributed, and stored; 5) Improved productivity because the elimination of film printing reduces patient waiting times for examinations; 6) Improved timeliness and appropriateness of patient care delivery with images being available immediately for review in multiple locations throughout the facility; 7) Elimination of lost hard copy examinations; 9) Faster report turnaround and real-time access to information, and 10) Cost savings because no hard copies need to be stored and expensive film is eliminated.

Planning for this transition started several years ago. Equipment had to be purchased; radiologists, technologists, and support staff had to be trained; procedures had to be redefined; and workflow issues resolved. A VistA Imaging Task Force was established to tackle these issues. This task force continues to meet weekly and includes representatives from the HVAMC Information Management Service Line as well as the HVAMC Radiology Department.

"The Houston VA Medical Center now offers our veterans a breakthrough medical image and information management system. Our health care providers now get the exact information they need, when, and where they need it. Our new system solves the cost and productivity problems inherent to a film-based imaging department: inconsistent image quality due to technologist error, a high amount of image retakes due to misplaced or lost images, and wasted staff time spent transporting images across the hospital," said Meena Vij, M.D., HVAMC Diagnostic & Therapeutic Care Line Executive.

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25