This article was originally published in Healthcare Technology June/July 2020 edition by Jerry Zeidenberg
Patients have been using the PocketHealth software platform to easily gain access to their diagnostic images in various hospitals and to keep them in a secure, cloud-based repository. Using the system, patents can take ownership of their images and provide online access to caregivers when and where the images are needed.
In just a few years, PocketHealth, a Toronto-based company, has become an international success story with its innovative solution. In April the company raised $9.2 million in venture funding and announced plans to rapidly grow its footprint across Canada and the United States, where CDs are still the primary form of image exchange. Already, some 500 hospitals and clinics across North America are using the cloud platform to provide patients with quick and easy access to their own medical images and reports.
Now, moreover, clinicians are also using the system to quickly move patient images to each other using its ‘Provider-to-Provider Sharing’ functionality. It’s especially useful when they are caring for a patient who is going from one institution to another, and the diagnostic images are needed for the follow-up care.
The rapid transfer of images through the PocketHealth secure cloud eliminates a big problem — namely the slow process of burning images onto CDs, which has been the traditional method of sending images from one organization to another.
Indeed, it often happens that a patient is about to be transferred from one site to another, but both the patient and care teams must wait for his or her images to be printed and packaged.
In other instances, outpatients needing follow-up care at a second hospital or clinic will often return to the hospital where they originally received care, in order to obtain copies of their images.
They must arrange for the images to be burned onto CDs, which can involved personal visits to pick up the disks, as well as time and expense for all involved. And with the COVID-19 crisis, hospitals are trying their best to keep all but the most urgent cases out of their premises, to control the spread of infection.
Here, too, it is easier — and safer — to send the patient images electronically, via the Internet. It’s a faster process, and it eliminates the need for the patient to physically visit a hospital.
“With COVID-19, it became the obvious way to go,” said Dr. Marc Ossip, chief of Radiology and medical director at William Osler Health System, a three-hospital organization with sites in Brampton and Etobicoke. Osler implemented the Provider-to-Provider version of the PocketHealth platform in March, just as the coronavirus pandemic spurred hospitals to restrict access and focus on caring for COVID-19 patients.
Aimee Langan (L) and Dr. Marc Ossip have been leading the implementation of the image sharing solution.
But even before the pandemic hit, said Dr. Ossip, there were good reasons to install the image sharing system. If patients needed treatment at several different hospitals, they would require multiple CDs, which would be time-consuming to create and difficult to keep track of. All too often, patients and organizations lose the disks.
In some instances, patients will seek out care in other provinces or countries, and disks need to be shipped via courier — adding more time to the process.
As well, said Dr. Ossip, “New computers don’t even have CD players anymore. The rest of the world has moved on from CDs and faxes, and we’re still using them.”
He added, “[PocketHealth] appeared to be a much bettor method.”
Just one month after implementing PocketHealth for provider-to-provider sharing, Osler had already used it in 85 patients transfers. That represented about half of the image sharing for patient transfers, versus about 50 percent with the traditional CD burning.
Dr. Ossip mentioned several scenarios where the PocketHealth solution has been useful.
For its part, Osler provides a wide range of medical services, but not all. For things like neonatal intensive care, patients are often transferred to Toronto’s downtown hospitals. Images used to be prepared on disks and sent with patients.
With services like neurosurgery, or when its own trauma bays are full, patients are usually transferred to peer hospitals. In these cases, Osler may have done imaging that needs to go with the patient to the new site.
“In the past, we’d sometimes have to wait for images to be printed and sent with the patient,” said Dr. Ossip.
With PocketHealth, an ‘Access Page’ can instead be generated and sent to the receiving hospital or clinic, either by email, electronic fax or as a printed page. At that end, a healthcare worker can enter a code on his or her computer and access the appropriate images. The DICOM imaging and reports can then be downloaded into the new institution’s PACS.
Aimee Langan, director of Diagnostic Imaging and Laboratory Services at Osler, said the PocketHealth system is easy for users to learn.
She mentioned that other organizations are steadily adopting the solution as well, and once both sides understand how to use it, it’s much easier to transmit images and reports than to print disks. And in this time of COVID-19, it helps keep “non-essential” visitors out of the hospital.
For his part, PocketHealth co-founder and CEO Rishi Nayyar, said 86 hospitals and imaging clinics across Canada have adopted the Provider-to-Provider Sharing functionality of the platform, including North York General Hospital, St Michael’s Hospital and Sault Area Hospital.
With COVID-19 increasing the need for virtual image sharing, he predicts several hundred more sites across Canada and the United States will be using it by the end of 2020.
Langan added that Osler’s radiology and lab departments are trying to modernize when it comes to CDs, which she regards as an antiquated technology that has been superseded by newer solutions — such as web and cloud-based systems. “We’d also like to eliminate faxing,” she said, but noted the process will take some time.
Find out how you can get started with PocketHealth’s provider-to-provider sharing here.