Merge Healthcare recently released its Merge Honeycomb Archive solution that the company hopes will help providers and consumers reduce duplicative testing and increase efficiency that should help lower costs.
Merge Healthcare has dual headquarters in Hartland and Chicago.
"Merge Honeycomb Archive allows providers the ability to upload, store and share medical images in a cloud environment," said George Fiffick, vice president of interoperability solutions at Merge Healthcare. "Merge Honeycomb Archive, provides a long-term storage option that houses images securely, in multiple locations, providing anywhere, anytime access in a secure environment."
The use of the Merge Honeycomb Archive allows hospital departments to utilize the same medical images from a patient in a convenient, affordable way. A patient entering the emergency room can get an X-ray and share the results and the images with the hospital department responsible for treatment and follow up without having to redo the same tests.
"Depending on the study you look at, duplicative medical imaging in the U.S. costs between $10 billion and $30 billion a year," Fiffick said. "That's a significant number that, if we can make more of these images accessible on the cloud from multiple locations in a safe secure environment, we have the potential to reduce or even eliminate."
Historically, health care providers would store a second copy of medical images from an exam on an antiquated drive, a CD or on physical storage that probably is not in multiple locations, Fiffick said.
"The Merge Honeycomb Archive allows for business continuity," he said.
The solution is accessible via the web. Users set up a profile and user account and manage contacts in a similar way that they do in a social or professional networking realm, Fiffick said.
"We intend it to be a very simple use of some of today's modern web technology," he said. "Users can manage who they want to share images with and from there can upload, download and share medical images with people in their network."
In the case of a health care provider, physicians and medical staff would be set up with user accounts and subscribed to the same network for sharing and storing.
If a patient enters the ER and needs X-rays or imaging scans completed, the department can do that and store the images on the cloud for the next department in the chain of treatment.
"If a specific department knows a patient is being transferred to them, they can pull up the images from the X-ray that were already taken and begin to determine treatment or diagnosis. Before, they would have had to wait for the physical images or a disk with all the images to come with the patient."
Not only can the solution improve continuity and efficiency, it also eliminates duplicative exams, reduces cost and decreases the patient's exposure to radiation on a repeat basis.
While a cloud-based solution sometimes sparks security fears in health care professionals, strict precautions have been taken in the development of Merge Honeycomb Archive and the high security framework meets all HIPAA and other privacy requirements, Fiffick said.
"All of the information uploaded and shared on the Honeycomb Archive System is encrypted," he said.
Right now the software as a service is being marketed directly to providers to utilize between geographic locations and facilities, but Fiffick envisions Honeycomb Archive playing an even bigger role in the expansion of electronic medical records and consumer participation in health care.
"Right now, there is very little patient involvement," he said. "But looking at trends and to the future, I can see this playing a significant role in how patients and doctors interact and a convenient way for patients to take an active approach to their health care documents."
The solution is accessible from any mobile device or computer and providers are charged on a 'per study' basis at the rate of approximately $1 per study, Fiffick said.
A study is considered one exam, so five images taken and stored in the Merge Honeycomb Archive cloud during one X-ray session is considered a study.
The company has received positive feedback so far.
"The software-as-a-service model removes the burden of heavy up-front expenditures that hospital systems and other providers simply can't stomach right now," Fiffick said.
Sharing information between providers and facilities will only increase as imminent reform happens and more facilities expand their use of electronic medical records.
The establishment of more Accountable Care Organizations will also increase the need for the solution.
"Nationally, the trends I see involve reducing costs and the establishment of more Accountable Care Organizations," Fiffick said. "In my opinion, the ability to share data is instrumental, even mandatory, when you talk about the success of those organizations and the industry as a whole."