Health

Imaging and lab results are begging for an electronic, cloud-based makeover

david yak healthbeatSAN FRANCISCO — CD-ROMs may be out of date for transferring music and photos, but the health care industry still uses them to transfer radiology and lab information.

David Yakimischak (who goes by “Yak”) opened a fireside chat at Healthbeat today by holding up a CD from radiology center that he has to physically deliver to his doctor. As the general manager of E-Prescribing at Surescripts, a leading health information network, Yak is an expert on using the cloud to exchange health information. He said that despite advancements in the transmission of health records and clinical information, data like X-rays MRIs, and lab results are primarily moved around offline.

“Over half of prescriptions in the country now flow electronically,” he said. “500,000 doctors actively use Surescripts every month, 60,000 pharmacies are connected, and we work with 450 EMRs. We successfully achieved critical mass because the players in the ecosystem got together and created this company. E-prescribing is deeply embedded into every prescribing application as a neutral common network that plugs into existing workflows. That’s what we have to do with labs and radiology.”

E-Prescribing digitized the exchange of prescriptions which makes life easier for doctors, pharmacies, and patients. Physicians can quickly access their patients’ benefit and medication history, send presciptions to pharmacies online, and all of that information is kept within one secure network. Yak said that labs and images are currently moved in a point-to-point manner. To do for radiology and lab results what Surescripts did for prescription requires a strong network on both sides.

“We are where we are because people are trying to multiply both sides of the network, we need a single national plan or model that brings governance, a business model, and public and private institutions together to capture the market,” he said. “This is not a technology problem, this is a system problem.”

Surescripts has that system, and the network, experience, and technology to migrate imaging and labs to the cloud. Yak said the company signed a deal with Merge Healthcare in November to tackle this very problem. Surescripts has “laid the rails” to 500,000 physicians and Merge will push its imaging results across its network.

For the cloud-based transmission of imaging and labs to succeed, it needs to provide a more cost-effective and efficient alternative to the existing model. Yak and John Cooper, a partner at Archepoint Ventures who moderated the discussion, agreed that the real opportunity here exists in the sharing of meta-data. Doctors usually don’t need super high-resolution images to make diagnoses and prescriptions, but they do need contextual information about the patient.

“You have to build some value around this data,” Yak said. It’s not just a transaction or a message switch, there is an ecosystem play here. Consumers, and doctors probably won’t pay, but providers and labs would if the efficiency and accuracy is heightened and pays off.”

As with most services in health IT, the bottom line is increased efficiency at a decreased cost. In today’s day and age, driving across town with an envelope or CD-Rom with medical results is unnecessary and seems a little absurd, but no company has been able to create a superior, compelling alternative. Is Surescripts that company?

“We may be,” Yak said.

Photo credit: Michael O’Donnell