How cancer care can benefit from a radiology image sharing network

Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

It always surprises patients when I tell them that I often have to justify the existence of the Yorkshire Imaging Collaborative to prove that it is a good idea worthy of funding. That’s because they all think it’s a given that when they have a scan the images are automagically shared to any doctor who subsequently treats them. I suppose they probably think the same about their patient notes (that’s a challenge for another day).

Patient’s are in disbelief when I tell them that virtually no hospital in the UK interoperates with another without the manual labour of transferring images (Image Exchange Portal) and reports (Fax machine — yes you did read that right).

How it could be

Now imagine that you are suspected to have cancer, you get sent for imaging in your local hospital just miles from your home or even a neighbourhood imaging clinic. Your images do not need to be pro-actively shared with anybody because your hospital is part of a collaborative image sharing network. Because the doctors in this are happy, share work between each other and communicate well, your report arrives quickly and your doctor can easily access it in his clinic.

You are diagnosed with cancer and you need to be treated as fast as possible in a regional specialist centre. Because your images are already seamlessly available you can be added to the next cancer meeting within the week. A decision is made to treat you with surgery and your images are available with associated reports and meeting notes during your operation.

Afterwards, you are told you need chemotherapy and because the cancer network are empowered to work in a distributed manner you can have that in your local hospital along with your re-staging scans to track your progress. All along, the specialist team in the cancer centre can keep an eye on you because of the image sharing network and collaborative working that the system empowers doctors to participate in.

What’s in it for doctors

The patient already expects the level of care I describe, but this is difficult to achieve in a system working on technology from a bygone era and without harmonious interoperation.

Speeding up the delivery of vital services such as cancer care is enough to convince any doctor of a bright idea but truthfully — it goes further than that.

Working in a collaborative image sharing network is good for radiologists who are a traditionally isolated and cliquey bunch.

It allows us to share expertise, balance workload during times of staffing difficulty and work better at scale.

We all have common practices that can be streamlined by sharing experience, documentation and guidelines. We all have killer tips and protocols that we can share with each other to educate and reach the ideal.

Above all, working in a collaborative environment improves our communication, makes us safer, more efficient and happier doctors and that can only be a good thing for our patient outcomes.