Healthcare has a language all its own. This resource section serves as a way to help define questions related to healthcare interoperability and technology terminology.


What is a PACS?

PACS stands for picture archiving and communications system. Traditionally used in medical imaging technology, PACS has the ability to deliver timely and efficient access and store digital images, interpretations and related data.  The universal format for PACS image storage and transfer is Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM).  Other clinical areas that utilize PACS are cardiology, oncology, surgery, orthopedics and gastroenterology.

PACS allows for
  • Digital, rather than manual, means of managing medical images.
  • Collaboration with specialists or primary care physicians.
  • Integration with other healthcare information systems such as hospital information systems (HIS), electronic health records (EHR), practice management software (PMS) and radiology information systems (RIS.)

What is RIS?

RIS stands for radiology information system. It facilitates the administration of a radiology practice.  Primary functions of a RIS include scheduling patient visits, exams and documenting the patient’s course through the visit. Radiology information systems should include functionality for forms and document management, dictation, speech recognition and template reporting, efax, email, and other automated methods of report distribution. A RIS increases efficiency for a radiology practice by automating time-consuming or repetitive tasks for administrative staff as well as reducing the time required to document the study. Most RIS can be integrated with picture archiving and communications systems (PACS), electronic health records (EHR), and hospital information systems (HIS).

What is EHR?

EHR stands for Electronic Health Record. While the terms electronic health record (EHR) and electronic medical record (EMR) are often used interchangeably, according to The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), the two terms have different meanings:

Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is a digital version of a patient’s medical record and contains the medical and treatment history of a patient.  They typically do not travel outside of the patient’s physician’s office.

Electronic Health Records (EHR) address the total health of a patient going beyond one provider’s office to encompass all of the patient’s health information.  An EHR is built to move with the patient, so they can be shared with all providers involved in the patient’s care.

What is a cloud-based EHR?

Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems essentially fall into two classes:  a server-based EHR or internet-based system maintained in “the cloud.”  A server-based EHR stores data collection in-house and requires a server, hardware, and software to be installed in the provider’s office.  Cloud-based EHR systems store data remotely on external servers and run on the web, requiring only a computer with an internet connection.

A cloud-based EHR system can be a cost-effective solution compared to a client-server EHR system. Cloud based health records systems have capabilities for scheduling, insurance eligibility and meaningful use reporting but are scalable to any size practice. Practices can get a faster return on investment with a cloud-based EHR solution than traditional client-server systems.

What is DICOM?

DICOM stands for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine. DICOM is a standard for handling, storing, printing and transmitting information in medical imaging.  A DICOM viewer is a medical image viewer that allows the user to browse standard PACS servers to view, download and display images.  Some viewers also allow interactive image manipulation such as zoom, pan and contrast images.

What is interoperability?

According to Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), interoperability means the ability of health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities.

Ensuring efficient, quality patient care decision-making in today’s healthcare environment is critical for physicians.  Patient data must be at their fingertips to use for effective information-based decision making.  Yet at many hospitals, health systems, or other provider organizations, integration of these systems has become a challenge and few organizations have been able to overcome the challenge of efficient interoperability.

Why is interoperability important to accountable care organizations?

At the crux, an ACO’s success will come from solving the interoperability puzzle to ensure quality patient data can be deployed efficiently within and across the organization’s boundaries to provide coordinated care for its population of patients.

What is ACO?

ACO stands for Accountable Care Organization. ACO is a care and payment model for healthcare organizations that seeks to tie provider reimbursements to quality metrics to reduce the total cost of care, improve outcomes, and instill better care.  The goal is coordinated care to ensure patients get the right care at the right time and to avoid unnecessary medical testing, services and prevent medical errors.

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