Radiologists are now better placed to cope with rising demand and are being better connected with colleagues across the region after East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust implemented a new Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS).
The system, which was implemented by Sectra, is providing instant access to images from several hospitals in the region and has already started to save staff substantial amounts of time when reviewing diagnostic images.
Crucially, for the first time, radiologists in East Lancashire are now able to work and report from home, helping to mitigate pressures and improve work life balance.
In the current context of potential self isolation and social distancing of staff, this is proving to be a crucial technology
Dr Tom Newton, consultant radiologist and chief clinical information officer at the trust, said: “Home working has been part of our strategy for years and has now become possible.
“When on call, if you are at home you can log into the PACS and provide a comprehensive final opinion.
“This is an important feature in making the discipline more attractive, especially in the North West, where we need to find ways to recruit and attract radiologists.
“It means that a radiologist potentially only needs to come to the hospital three days in a week and can work from home for two days.
“But, in the current context of potential self isolation and social distancing of staff, this is proving to be a crucial technology.”
More broadly, the PACS is expected to help radiologists better cope with rising demand that has persisted in the discipline for years.
“I can report significantly more scans in a day than I did previously because our PACS is much faster,” added Dr Newton.
Speed of access to images is crucial and the new PACS allows colleagues who may be in different trusts to look at an image together in real time when they need a second opinion
“This will help us to keep up with the growing number of images we need to report each year – with CT scans alone increasing by 10% year on year.
“It also supports the trust’s longer-term ambition, connecting us into a wider network of trusts where we can share resources, access expertise, and work together as an integrated system.”
The trust has already connected its PACS to neighbouring University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and will soon connect to Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, allowing a seamless and secure flow of imaging as patients move across the region.
All three trusts are part of the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria integrated care system.
Leighan Beesley, radiology IT systems and performance manager at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “From a resource point of view this massively helps our service.
“We have substantially reduced the time spent manually transferring images to and from neighbouring hospitals.
“Now we have instant access to images from across the patch.
Seeing staff benefit from the system immediately is really rewarding, and it’s gratifying to see this help the trust to implement a way of working that can contribute to the huge challenge currently facing the NHS
“From a clinical perspective this is hugely important.
“Speed of access to images is crucial and the new PACS allows colleagues who may be in different trusts to look at an image together in real time when they need a second opinion.
“And it better facilitates multi-disciplinary team meetings held across the integrated care system and gives frontline clinicians access to images in ways they haven’t had before, while also allowing radiologists to work from home.”
Other immediate benefits include the fact that clinicians on the ward can use a Uniview function to create 3D reconstructions themselves, meaning radiographers no longer need to spend their time creating the reconstructions for clinicians.
And, in the near future, the trust will also decommission its separate breast PACS, moving to a single system.
In addition, the trust has moved to PACS-based reporting and eventually other ‘ologies’ will be able to move to the PACS, with the system expected to fully integrate into the trust’s electronic patient record when this is procured next year.
Jane Rendall, managing director at Sectra for the UK and Ireland, said: “Seeing staff benefit from the system immediately is really rewarding, and it’s gratifying to see this help the trust to implement a way of working that can contribute to the huge challenge currently facing the NHS.
“It’s also great to see the technology used to empower regional working – the only way forward in the NHS.”