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The Trouble with Image Sharing, and the Opportunity

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, August 20, 2013

Hoarding medical imaging data is one of the most highly profitable, and strategic, tactics of hospitals competing in a fee-for-service market. It also represents a huge opportunity to reduce the high cost of healthcare as reform comes online.

One of the lesser-talked about menu objectives in Meaningful Use Stage 2 is a requirement to use EHRs to receive more than 10 percent of imaging results. Given the current crunch regarding core objectives of Meaningful Use Stage 2, it is understandable that not much is being said about this requirement.

Nevertheless, sharing images goes to the heart of what is possible with healthcare IT. The generation of medical images costs a fortune. Under a fee-for-service model, generating the maximum possible images out of the various departments of a hospital is a huge source of revenue.

As we know, the fee-for-service system is hanging on for the foreseeable future. I'm guessing that if you strip away the generation of duplicative, unneeded medical images, you are probably talking about the difference between many a profitable hospital and those same hospitals running at a loss.

From the technology standpoint, medical imaging systems have been big-ticket items. It's probably true that hospitals in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s engaged in an imaging arms race, making massive investments in systems that pushed the imaging state of the art to where it is today. Their installation drove many a press release and marketing campaign.

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