AZ Delta, Flanders

Growing hospital group ready for the future with a new imaging strategy

AZ Delta was established in 2015 after a merger between two hospitals with a total of four sites. In 2018, a third hospital joined the group. A new vision for the group’s imaging strategy was required, which eventually led to the implementation of a hospital-wide system for image storage: a vendor-neutral archive (VNA). How did AZ Delta arrive at this imaging strategy and which selection criteria were important to them when choosing a vendor?

Sectra not only offered the hospital-wide platform and functionalities that we were looking for—they were also a very cooperative partner. Because of the system’s complexity and the fact that it’s deployed on a hospital-wide basis, you know in advance that you will run into problems at some point. These are situations where a good supplier can make all the difference.

Jan Suykerbuyk, IT manager at AZ Delta

With five campuses, 1,389 beds, 4,000 employees and 385 doctors, AZ Delta is currently the fourth-largest hospital group in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of northern Belgium. The organization is divided into nine healthcare clusters served by five supporting clusters, one of which is medical imaging.

The process of establishing a new image management vision started as early as 2014, when it was announced that H.-Hartziekenhuis in Roeselare-Menen would merge with Stedelijk Ziekenhuis Roeselare to become AZ Delta. At that moment, a choice had to be made as to which joint RIS/PACS would be used across the newly merged organization. The hospital made a pragmatic choice and continued with the PACS that was the largest within the organization at the time.

Preparing for future developments

The intention was to think carefully about the future, including nuclear medicine. Dr. Kristof De Smet, Radiologist, says: “There’s a lot of development in the field of medical imaging. The most important is the trend towards more clinical consulting. Due to developments such as AI, we will spend less and less time in the future taking measurements and reporting, since part of that work will be taken over by AI. That means we will get more time to advise medical specialists and have more time for multidisciplinary team meetings, which we will also be able to prepare for much better.” Thus, one important requirement was that new RIS/PACS innovations, such as AI applications, should be easy to integrate. “All of the existing functionality within the system itself is of course important, but looking ahead it’s mainly about the RIS/PACS also working well with software from other parties,” De Smet says.

In our old environment, we often had to log in to multiple systems to handle one task, which isn’t efficient. It’s important that you have access to all the tools you need from a single environment, regardless of whether that functionality is in the PACS or in another system.

Dr. Kristof De Smet, Radiologist at AZ Delta

Workflow support

Another important aspect was good workflow support, where the process of the person working with the system is central, not the system itself. De Smet explains: “In our old environment, we often had to log in to multiple systems to handle one task, which isn’t efficient. It’s important that you have access to all the tools you need from a single environment, regardless of whether that functionality is in the PACS or in another system.”

In addition to workflows, data management must also be properly supported, especially in view of the recent GDPR legislation. IT manager Jan Suykerbuyk explains: “We work closely with academic hospitals and research centers. Hence, we send a lot of images to external parties that perform certain research and they send the feedback and results back to us. In the context of GDPR, it’s very important that the system offers the possibility to indicate what is allowed and what is not with respect to certain types of data.”

Working together remotely

The ease of working remotely on a different campus or from home was also part of the selection criteria.

“Many radiologists appreciate when they can perform diagnostic reading and reporting from their homes,” De Smet says. “Location-independent work gives us more flexibility in how we organize our day. Radiology is becoming increasingly specialized and you therefore regularly consult with a colleague who has a certain specialty, so people from different physical locations needed an easy way to look at the same image.” 

Hospital-wide image archive

Given the strong technological component of this project, radiology and nuclear medicine immediately started collaborating with the IT department, where Jan Suykerbuyk is the IT manager. When offering advice about the new RIS/PACS, he emphasized the importance of a broad vision of image management. “Almost every healthcare cluster uses imaging technology in diagnostics. Thus, our long-term vision is to be able to store all created images centrally, whether it’s a heart film, an ultrasound or a bowel examination.” In short, AZ Delta not only wanted a new PACS, but was actually looking for a hospital-wide VNA: a core system to which the various departments could connect.

If your organization is planning on switching to a new image management system, make sure to immediately involve as many users as possible. They should be leading the choice. Success is really determined by the direct users, not by the IT department.

Jan Suykerbuyk, IT manager at AZ Delta

Orthopaedics and cardiology were thinking ahead

AZ Delta decided to integrate even more medical specialties into the VNA right from the start, starting with orthopaedics and cardiology, and then expanding to geriatrics, operating theatres, gastrointestinal diseases and pediatrics. The IT department asked orthopaedics and cardiology specifically to actively contribute ideas. Both specialties insisted on the requirement mentioned earlier: workflow support.

“Orthopedists and cardiologists use many specific functionalities that they would like to be able to launch from the VNA without first having to open another system,” says project manager Annelies Meyns. “We also want to offer our specialists the choice of which viewer they wish to use—the generic viewer of the VNA or a specific viewer that is tailored to their medical specialization.” 

Cooperative business partner

All these requirements were included in the supplier request, and Sectra was ultimately awarded the contract.

“Sectra not only offered the hospital-wide platform and functionalities that we were looking for—they were also a very cooperative partner,” says Suykerbuyk. “Because of the system’s complexity and the fact that it’s deployed on a hospital-wide basis, you know in advance that you will run into problems at some point. These are situations where a good supplier can make all the difference. Sectra is close to us and they are frequently present at all our locations, especially at critical moments such as our first upgrade, which took place recently. The upgrade went very well and Sectra’s onsite support was hardly necessary. However, it gives our employees a sense of assurance when they see that Sectra is by our side—not only on the phone but also through their actual, physical presence. I think that’s very important.” 

Involve future users in the selection process

Suykerbuyk concludes with a piece of advice: “If your organization is planning on switching to a new image management system, make sure to immediately involve as many users as possible. They should be leading the choice. If they can’t see themselves working with the system, for example if they find it too cumbersome, then even if a PACS or VNA works well on all other fronts, it won’t be a success. Success is really determined by the direct users, not by the IT department.”

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