What Is PACS (Picture Archiving and Communications System)?

Medical imaging is a key part of any patient’s health record and a PACS provides the necessary speed, security and cost-efficiency to ensure patients receive the best care possible.

Published on Apr. 04, 2023
What Is PACS (Picture Archiving and Communications System)?
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A PACS (picture archiving and communication system) is a medical imaging technology that allows the remote retrieval of medical images and associated data. A PACS will combine both hardware and software to obtain, store and retrieve medical images using the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standard. 

PACS support many image types and saves hospitals from storing images in physical film archives, which are costly and difficult to maintain. A PACS will also allow the medical staff to access all the images stored on the system remotely and securely, which considerably speeds up communication between different departments and leads to faster patient diagnoses.

Types of PACS Images

  • Ultrasound
  • Digital radiography
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Mammogram
  • Endoscopy

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Who Uses PACS?

Since PACS is a medical imaging technology, it’s used by health care facilities and hospitals. 

Before PACS, health care systems had to manually store, retrieve and display each medical image they needed because all images were stored in film archives. This bottleneck created a serious delay between the taking of the image to the interpretation of said image and subsequent diagnosis of the patient’s condition, thereby compromising the provider’s ability to deliver efficient, quality care. Because PACS can significantly reduce this delay, it’s a vital component of any modern hospital or healthcare facility. 

 

How Are PACS Images Stored?

The standard format for PACS image storage is DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine), which is used by hospitals worldwide to store, exchange and transmit medical images. DICOM defines the formats for medical images that can be exchanged with the data and quality necessary for clinical use. The standard consists of a file format definition and a network communications protocol.

PACS can handle an extensive assortment of image types from different medical imaging devices, including ultrasounds, digital radiography and more. A huge advantage of PACS is that we can add new image types at any time, which means that the system can stay up-to-date as medical imaging technology develops.

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Uses of PACS

PACS Uses With Other Medical Imaging Technology 

One of the most interesting features of PACS is that it provides a platform we can integrate with other medical technology systems, thereby greatly enhancing its capabilities. These medical tech systems include:

  • Hospital Information System (HIS): An HIS is an information system that is designed to fulfill all of a hospital’s administrative needs. 
  • Radiology Information System (RIS): An RIS is a core system for electronically managing imaging departments.
  • Electronic Medical Record (EMR): An EMR is an electronic version of a patient’s medical history.

The integration of PACS with HIS, RIS and EMR systems is a powerful combination that considerably minimizes data management and storage costs. These integrations also reduce the amount of time it takes to transfer medical data. 

 

Remote Access

PACS allows healthcare professionals to access medical images from different physical locations. This means tests can be performed at virtually any medical facility and the results will be available to healthcare providers at any place, any time. This inter-facility communication greatly improves diagnosis speeds, therefore improving the overall quality of patient care.

 

Hard Copy Replacement

PACS completely eliminates the need to have hard copies of medical images (usually film archives), thereby reducing overhead costs. Without the need for physical storage, hospitals can adopt fully digital workflows, which not only allow the instant viewing of images from any workstation in the facility, but also increase the speed and efficiency with which the different departments effectively diagnose patients.

 

Radiology Workflow Management 

Radiology professionals can use the PACS system to manage their workflow, which can look like this:

  • A radiology technician takes the necessary medical images.
  • The technician can instantly review the image in the workstation.
  • Once the technician is satisfied with the quality and accuracy of the image, they send it to the digital archive by way of a secure network. 
  • The image is now available to every healthcare professional that has access to the PACS system. 
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Benefits of PACS

Some of the benefits of using PACS are:

  • Increased integration between departments and facilities
  • Increased productivity 
  • Remote image viewing 
  • Instant image viewing 
  • Reduced costs 
  • More efficient diagnoses 
  • Support for many medical image types
  • Improved patient care
  • High-quality, durable images
  • Ready access to high-quality images for medical students
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PACS Architecture 

PACS systems are comprised of four components.

  1. Imaging modalities: These include ultrasound, CT, PET, MRI and more.  
  2. Secure network: It’s imperative that the network through which images are transmitted is secure to avoid data leaks and malicious attacks
  3. Physical workstations: PACS workstations are hardware components that healthcare professionals use to access and view the images. 
  4. Archives: PACS image archives are the main storage devices. These archives store the images and any additional information relevant to the images (measurements, reports, patient information and more). 

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Cloud-Based PACS

A cloud-based PACS is a picture archiving and communication system that runs on a remote cloud computing service. These systems are usually flexible, highly scalable, secure and allow healthcare professionals to access the images from many devices including mobile phones and tablets. Most importantly, the hospital IT staff are relieved of the burden that comes with maintaining, deploying, supporting and updating the PACS system. 

Traditional PACS systems are hosted on local servers managed by the hospital’s IT department. It can sometimes be challenging for healthcare facilities and hospitals that use these traditional PACS systems to find enough storage space for the large amounts of data these systems produce and store. Maintaining and supporting these systems can also pose technical difficulties and require specialized IT staff on the team. Using a cloud-based PACS can be a viable solution.

Some examples of cloud-based PACS include:

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