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Digital Imaging Archive Benefits Clinical Service and Teaching
by Lianne Carr

With the newly up-and-running PACS system, the College of Veterinary Medicine adds to an already cutting-edge diagnostic imaging service in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The system, Picture Archival and Communication System, is exactly that. PACS digitally stores images produced by such modalities as computed radiography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and nuclear medicine. It also provides a fast and easy way to access digital images via a typical desktop computer.

[Dr. Michael Thomas points out a feature on the imaging station] [patient radiographs]
Left, Dr. Michael Thomas, clinical associate professor of imaging/radiology therapy, points out a feature on a patient image at the “command central” imaging station in the Large Animal Clinic. Right, PACS allows easy comparison of patient radiographs taken at different stages of treatment.

This world-class Kodak archival system is the second step in bringing our imaging service completely into the digital realm. Earlier, technology to acquire radiography images digitally was brought to Illinois through the efforts of Dr. Ted Valli, former dean and now professor of pathology, and former head of veterinary clinical medicine Dr. Fred Troutt, along with Richard Keen, imaging technologist, and former U of I radiologist Dr. John Losonsky.

Computed radiography allows radiologists to digitally enhance images for improved quality, thus reducing the need to reshoot images. This in turn reduces radiation exposure to students, technicians, and patients alike and avoids wasting film.

The acquisition of PACS adds to this technology the ability to store and catalog digital images. Dr. Valli, Dr. Warwick Arden, professor and head of veterinary clinical medicine, Dr. Stephen Kneller, associate professor and chief of imaging and radiation therapy, and Craig Flowers, director of computing services, helped bring PACS to Illinois. Dr. Art Siegel, director of medical informatics, oversaw implementation of the project and is the PACS administrator. Dr. Igor Kuriashkin, digital imaging specialist, serves as PACS co-administrator.

According to Drs. Valli and Siegel, PACS has already led to benefits in patient care and has the potential of being a powerful teaching and research tool. The storage of images in a digital format will greatly reduce the need for traditional radiographic films. Films may be made if necessary, but with the ability to access images from any computer, clinicians and students are no longer required to retrieve films from storage areas.

Pathologists who are interpreting cytological or histological biopsies of bone or soft tissue lesions also now have access to diagnostic images. The system has a universally accepted protocol for image identification, so there can be no mistaking patients’ images.

Images may be accessed beyond the clinics as well. According to Drs. Kneller and Siegel, referring practitioners will eventually be able to access PACS via the Internet and retrieve their patients’ images at a password-protected site. In addition, a patient’s entire imaging history is stored and can be accessed as necessary. This allows for easy comparisons to past images, which is especially useful in monitoring chronic conditions.

One of the most exciting uses for PACS is as a teaching tool.

“What I see in the future is people using imaging to teach,” says Dr. Valli. Teachers of anatomy, physiology, and pathology will be able to help make the first two years of the program more relevant and alive by incorporating current cases from the PACS archives into lectures or laboratories.

The PACS database can be searched to retrieve images by patient name, number, or study number. Eventually, by use of other indices and programs, teachers will be able to easily access images of desired structures or lesions for incorporation into digital teaching materials.

This is advanced technology for veterinary and human hospitals alike and raises the profile of the College.

As Dr. Valli says, “PACS is going to be one of the things that will draw people here.”

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