- Active and Running
A picture archiving and communication system (PACS) is a medical imaging technology which provides economical storage and convenient access to images from multiple modalities (source machine types). Electronic images and reports are transmitted digitally via PACS; this eliminates the need to manually file, retrieve, or transport film jackets. The universal format for PACS image storage and transfer is DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine). Non-image data, such as scanned documents, may be incorporated using consumer industry standard formats like PDF (Portable Document Format), once encapsulated in DICOM. A PACS consists of four major components: The imaging modalities such as X-ray plain film (PF), computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a secured network for the transmission of patient information, workstations for interpreting and reviewing images, and archives for the storage and retrieval of images and reports. Combined with available and emerging web technology, PACS has the ability to deliver timely and efficient access to images, interpretations, and related data. PACS breaks down the physical and time barriers associated with traditional film-based image retrieval, distribution, and display.
The architecture is the physical implementation of required functionality, or what one sees from the outside. There are different views, depending on the user. A radiologist typically sees a viewing station, a technologist a QA workstation, while a PACS administrator might spend most of their time in the climate-controlled computer room. The composite view is rather different for the various vendors.
Typically a PACS consists of a multitude of devices. The first step in typical PACS systems is the modality. Modalities are typically computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Depending on the facility’s workflow most modalities send to a quality assurance (QA) workstation or sometimes called a PACS gateway. The QA workstation is a checkpoint to make sure patient demographics are correct as well as other important attributes of a study. If the study information is correct the images are passed to the archive for storage. The central storage device (archive) stores images and in some cases reports, measurements and other information that resides with the images. The next step in the PACS workflow is the reading workstations. The reading workstation is where the radiologist reviews the patient’s study and formulates their diagnosis. Normally tied to the reading workstation is a reporting package that assists the radiologist with dictating the final report. Reporting software is optional and there are various ways in which doctors prefer to dictate their report. Ancillary to the workflow mentioned, there is normally CD/DVD authoring software used to burn patient studies for distribution to patients or referring physicians. The diagram above shows a typical workflow in most imaging centers and hospitals. Note that this section does not cover integration to a Radiology Information System, Hospital Information System and other such front-end system that relates to the PACS workflow.
PACS image backup is a critical, but sometimes overlooked, part of the PACS Architecture (see below). HIPAA requires that backup copies of patient images be made in case of image loss from the PACS. There are several methods of backing up the images, but they typically involve automatically sending copies of the images to a separate computer for storage, preferably off-site.