Image Sharing Seeks to Reduce Repeat Scans

When 5-year-old Piper Gibson was hospitalized in Oklahoma City last summer with frightening strokelike symptoms, her father, Chris, got a same-day second opinion on her brain scan from another neurologist—in Boston.

Mr. Gibson was able to get the second opinion with unusual efficiency by taking advantage of a secure electronic network that can transfer medical images in minutes. It is one of a growing number of image-exchange services that eliminate many of the hassles patients encounter in transferring CT-scans, MRIs, X-rays and ultrasounds whenever they seek a second opinion, consult a specialist or start seeing a new doctor.

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.

Enlarge Image
Christina Saumur Photography

Chris and Dyani Gibson tapped an image-sharing network to get a second opinion when their daughter Piper was hospitalized last year.

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.


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