Logistics are time-consuming when patients want to share an image with two or more doctors or track down older images so a new doctor can compare them with current results. Typically, patients receive copies of a medical image on a compact disc, which can easily be lost, damaged or even contain someone else's information. And because competing vendors sell incompatible equipment, one doctor sometimes can't view another's image on a CD without a long conversion process.
As a result, scans and other images are often repeated, piling up health-care costs and exposing patients to additional and potentially harmful doses of radiation. Though Medicare has clamped down on medical imaging expenditures in recent years, the federal agency spent about $10 billion in 2010, compared with about $6 billion a decade earlier. An estimated 10% to 20% of those costs are duplicate exams.
Now, several state and regional health-information exchanges have begun sharing images electronically, and a number of companies sell image-sharing technology directly to hospitals and radiology clinics to help transfer test results among doctors, who can view them on a tablet or smartphone if need be.
A growing number of providers, including some participating in a federally-funded program called Image Share, are offering patients a way to share their own images directly. The Radiological Society of North America, under contract with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, is overseeing the Image Share project, with pilot sites including Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, the University of California, San Francisco, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.