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What is a Picture Archiving and Communication System?

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  • Written By: Meghan Perry
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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A picture archiving and communication system (PACS) is a system that enables users to digitally record and archive images, most often in hospitals. It began being implemented in the 1980s, and with technology continuing to evolve, it has become more common. The picture archiving and communication system is actually a set of systems that facilitate the archiving, processing and viewing of digital radiological images.

Some of the types of images that can be recorded using the system include X-rays, computed tomographs (CTs), magnetic resonance images (MRIs) and ultrasounds. In the 1990s, the picture archiving and communication system was integrated with radiology information systems (RIS). Hospitals are the main consumers of picture archiving and communication systems.

There are four components of the system. The first component is the imaging system, which is what actually takes the digital images and records them. The second component is a secure network so that the images can be exchanged between doctors and other necessary staff members. The third component is the workstation, which is the place where the images can be viewed. The final component is the archive, which is where the images are stored, also digitally.

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Everything is done over a network. The images are acquired over a network using the imaging equipment. They are also archived in the system over a network in what are known as image databases. They are also retrieved over a network. Doctors who have remote access can review the images and make diagnoses using the system.

There are several benefits to implementing the picture archiving and communication system. One of the most important benefits is that it offers a better diagnosis process because doctors are able to access images in an efficient and timely way. The efficiency is also a benefit in emergency situations, when doctors often have to make very quick decisions. They are able to acquire more information so that their decisions are more well-informed.

Being able to archive and store everything electronically also eliminates the need for film, which in turn reduces the need for storage space. The picture archiving and communication system also offers the ability to digitally enhance images that have been retrieved. This allows for sharper images and more detail, which again helps strengthen diagnoses.

The biggest disadvantage of the picture archiving and communication system is that it is quite expensive. That's why it is usually a department-based decision and is most often found in the radiology or emergency departments. It might become more cost-effective as it becomes more common and the benefits often outweigh the cost.

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