From quicker transfers to the operating room to less radiation exposure, a cloud computing approach to file sharing is meant to improve care at UC San Diego Health System. I spoke recently with Dr. Jeanne Lee, a trauma surgeon, about how the new model improves on an antiquated system. Here are excerpts from our interview:
How were you sharing radiology files before you began using this system?
We frequently get [patient] transfers from Imperial County. When [facilities there] have a major trauma patient they think will need a higher level of care, they call us. They frequently have done studies [on the patient] already. The patient is sent here with a copy of their radiology studies, typically on a CD. Most of the time, it works out fine and they come with their accurate studies.
But sometimes things go wrong. If [files are] not burned on the CD in the correct format, it's not readable by our system. Not all radiology programs can read all formats. Sometimes, we don't have all the studies. They'll send some of them, but not everything. It's hard to get those sent over. It's a one-and-a-half to two-hour drive. Because some of these studies are the reason these patients are getting transferred, sometimes we have to repeat them. That means more radiation for the patients. [Often for conditions] like head bleeds, you like to see a comparison. You like to see what the original looked like so you can see if things are worse. When we don't have the originals, it's hard to do that.
How does this new system improve on that?
The outside facility will transmit through the Internet the studies for the patient. It's basically instantaneous. As soon as they send it, it gets here. You can see [the studies] before the patients get here. The minimum transport time for these patients is about 30 to 45 minutes if they're flown. By the time they get here, you've had a chance to review the studies. If it's not the correct studies, you can always call them. There's another way of sending information rather than a hard copy or on a CD.
It gives us a way to pre-plan the management for the patients. For example, if it's a patient with a bad head bleed, we can call the neurosurgeons here. [They] look at the scan. Every once in awhile, they'll say, 'This patient needs to go straight to the operating room.' If we have all the studies, we can review everything. I may just need to do one additional study that wasn't performed in the outside hospital, then [the patient] can go -- basically within minutes -- to the operating room.
How has the system otherwise impacted patient care?
They end up with less radiation. We're not forced to re-image them if we don't have the studies we need. We've got access to them. If we need to re-image them for whatever reason, we can be more specific about what we need based on the images that were sent over. Hopefully, it impacts [the patient] in terms of less radiation exposure.
Are there other potential applications for this technology in the medical setting?
Potentially. We have to be careful. You're talking about sending medical information over the Internet. You have to be careful about how it's sent and who it's exposed to and whether it's secure. There are issues with having things hacked into and having information dispersed that shouldn't be. It would probably be useful in the long-term for the complete medical record. Right now, the medical record still comes on paper.
Image, top: Cloud computing
Photo, bottom: Dr. Jeanne Lee
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com