Digital imaging is growing in significance within healthcare and a growing number of healthcare professionals across the globe now view picture archiving and communications systems, or PACS, as a core technology. Such is its growing popularity that the PACS market in Europe and North America will reach a value of $8.6 billion by 2011, providing sizeable opportunities for technology vendors.
Common industry estimates suggest 5% to 20% of traditional medical film images are lost in transit annually. It means patients having to have x-rays retaken and compromised diagnoses due to missing medical histories. With PACS, the chances of medical records being lost are very small – which is just one example of its advantages.
In addition, technological developments in digital imaging mean PACS has evolved such that it can now be integrated into cardiology, pathology and dermatology, driving demand for more deployments within a single institution.
With PACS technology evolving from being purely radiology-centric, it is not only moving into different healthcare departments but also other industry sectors, including academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies.
Cost savings, time efficiency and better patient care driving market growth
With PACS installed, clinicians can have access to large quantities of medical history at their fingertips, enabling quick cross-referencing and thus saving valuable time in dealing with complex cases. For radiologists, PACS enables a far faster turnaround with each patient, thus creating a more efficient system. As PACS is more efficient than using traditional film, it means more patients can be seen in a day; therefore less staff are required to maintain the same level of service.
In the past, if an academic institution or a pharmaceutical company wished to conduct research on images, a trial would have had to have been conducted involving the manual acquisition and reviewing of the images. This would have been from a relatively small sample size and would have been time-consuming and costly. In the era of digital imaging, however, this is being revolutionized. It is now possible for an academic institution or pharmaceutical company to conduct research on previous cases. With metadata attached to the images, it is possible to compare previous results to find commonalities.
Keeping PACS costs down will remain key to driving adoption
While large institutions rarely see the cost of PACS implementation as an impediment to installation, because the cost benefits of PACS are clear to them, the cost of PACS is of concern to smaller community hospitals. They often have difficulty in raising the capital for investment in technology. Smaller hospitals also lack the economies of scale that enable larger hospitals to benefit from IT investments more quickly.
This is particularly true in markets such as eastern Europe. Smaller hospitals usually have concerns over initial capital costs, and raising funds for investment in new technology is particularly difficult for them. For example, in the US, where there is a healthy level of PACS implementation, the majority of hospitals still to install PACS are the smaller community institutions.
The adoption of PACS within immature markets will continue to grow. There is, however, still apprehension within these markets towards the technology. This apprehension is not with the benefits of PACS; it is to do with the perception that the costs of PACS are prohibitive. However, as the cost of PACS falls, largely due to reduced storage costs, and small hospitals see the benefits of PACS gained by larger hospitals, this conservatism is waning.
While France and Germany have been slower than other western economies in installing PACS, clinical benefits are expected to prove a strong selling point and both markets should develop well, with compound annual growth rates of 12% and 11%, respectively, predicted for these markets from 2006 to 2011.
Technology vendors need to understand the differing priorities of healthcare providers across the markets, and take a flexible approach to selling PACS, especially where there has been apprehension towards the technology. The competition between vendors is likely to be focused on the product package and price structure rather than advanced features sets. To remain competitive in this evolving market, strong partnerships among vendors will be important to retain business and keep a competitive edge by offering synergies and a greater depth of applications.