The situation with PACS is completely unacceptable. As you can see it is 5:55 AM and the system has been "down for three hours. My phone will not stop ringing with upset doctors that they have non reads and can't get images. ER can't hear my voice clips. I am rendering interpretations on monitors in the modalities on studies such as deer vs moped and attempted murder buckshot to the face cases. The problem is more than just my obvious legal exposure, but there is a notion somehow this is the radiologist fault, like we exert some control over this.And from the guy on the early evening shift:
There was an ugly incident a couple of days ago with me and a PACS administrator in the reading room when I was told the problem was fixed and I had an issue. The next confrontation I fear will result in me saying something I will truly regret and this is my last warning email. Its time to go up the ladder and make changes.
PACS started the inexorable slow decline at about 9pm last night, with the usual >30 sec between studies, lack of initial response to mouse input resulting in cursor catastrophe when the machine finally caught up, and...a new one for me...the mouse cursor got stuck at the bottom of far right screen number 5...it took me forever just to find the cursor.This sounds eerily familiar...
Is it unreasonable to institute a "no further imaging" point where, at our discretion, all imaging is halted until PACS resumes normal function? Otherwise, as stated above, we are liable for studies we cannot interpret per ACR guidelines, as the images are locked in a radiology purgatory. Continuing to scan patients and send them to this purgatory does absolutely no one any good at all. It only leads to the clinician unrest and anger our partner fought for us all last night/this morning.
Remember the Blunder Down Under?
To this day, five years later, my friends in Perth and elsewhere in Western Australia tell me their Agfa system still doesn't work properly. Now you see why Agfa has been very hesitant to share information with me!
It is quite possible this cannot be fixed. Agfa's PACS architecture is extremely complex, to the point that their own experts may not know what's going wrong with the system. Add to that a very clear reluctance on the part of our IT department to consider a network problem even in the face of clear evidence.
We are now backed in a corner. We cannot allow this to degenerate into another Western Australia debacle. For what it's worth, here are my suggestions:
First, someone needs to take a laptop to the data center and plug it straight into the server. If the PACS client works properly, we will know something about how the network is or isn't affecting performance. (Which we already know since different sites have different speed issues, and we get the best performance when connecting over the internet, but there are those who need proof...)
Secondly, given the crashes, it is clear that the problems go beyond the network, although I still think the network plays a significant part. Even if it isn't included in the contract (which I would like to peruse), the vendor needs to perform the next major update AT NO CHARGE given the current impairment to patient care we are experiencing.
Third, it is time to strongly consider moving to another vendor, this time using a Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) which allows for easier migration in the future. I don't know the exact figures of how many exams and how much data we have stored over 20 years of PACS experience, but it would be a VERY major undertaking. Still, the switch to a VNA is something I strongly recommend even if we stay with Agfa. Keep in mind, migration from the old database could literally take years.
I haven't had hands-on experience with all of the vendors out there, but of course that doesn't stop me from having an opinion. While not everyone likes Merge/AMICAS, and they have had their problems at the hospital using it (although our group's system has had very, very few over the years), it has a much simpler architecture, built around a regular old web-server (Windows Server if you're interested), and as such it can handle a tremendous amount of traffic. I personally like the client (which I had a small hand in designing). The newer versions use a VNA database.
McKesson gets good reviews from the rads that use it, and in fact one of my bosses/former partners has had a very positive experience with it. McKesson was excluded from the 2003 PACS upgrade search because at the time, IT was phasing out other McKesson products for reasons known only to IT and would not consider any new McKesson product. Sectra out of Sweden has its fans and a fairly large US presence. Intelerad has a product similar to Merge/AMICAS that is certainly worth considering.
TeraRecon and a smaller advanced visualization company called Visage have something they call "deconstructed PACS" which overlays the existing database and provides another client interface. You still need your own VNA and other supporting components.
My short list ends there.
Based on our experience with GE's Universal Disappointment, and some insider knowledge, I would not even bother with them. Fuji continues to have many weird client problems, and locked-down software for which changes take years. Philips rebrands the web-based system once called Stentor. It is the last of the major programs that can't burn a DICOM CD readable by another PACS. People either love it or hate it. Siemens' latest PACS offering, syngoPlaza, hasn't taken off to any significant degree. There are a dozen more small PACS offerings out there that I would never recommend at all, let alone for an enterprise the size of ours.
For the very short term, IF our system cannot be brought under control, it will be necessary to do some form of overlay. From limited exposure at the last RSNA, the deconstructed PACS concept would work, BUT there are missing pieces such as the inability to generate a worklist, which requires another product. Years ago, an older version of AMICAS was used at Mass General as an overlay for their older (version 4.x) IMPAX to provide web-based access. With the proper interface engines, I think Merge could create an overlay to our database with full functionality. I think so, anyway.
It is validating, though sad, to have Dalai's First Law proven correct again and again:
PACS IS the radiology department.