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How SDKs and APIs Are Meeting the Imaging Needs of the Healthcare Industry

The healthcare industry has undergone a profound change in the 21st century. A combination of technological advancements and regulatory pressures has encouraged providers to adopt new software platforms and update their existing IT stack. Gone are the days of physical file archives and cramped server rooms; today’s healthcare organizations are instead embracing innovative Internet of Things (IoT) devices, cloud-based file systems, and colocated server deployments that enhance their service capabilities and efficiency.

Unfortunately, not every provider is implementing new technology at the same pace. As science fiction author William Gibson famously observed, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Today’s healthcare organizations must navigate a complex landscape of software solutions and overcome compatibility challenges in order to provide better service and care patients deserve.

The Drive for Interoperability

One of the key components of the 2010 Affordable Care Act was the push to promote interoperability among healthcare providers. The logic was fairly simple: for a healthcare marketplace to work effectively, patient information needs to be able to move freely between providers. That meant the myriad healthcare technology platforms being adopted by different organizations needed to be able to communicate with one another and share a common set of file formats.

The combined pressures of digital transformation and interoperability have led most hospitals and specialized health providers to implement picture archiving and communication systems (PACS). These digital archives and file management platforms allow providers to easily, store, retrieve, distribute, and present a variety of medical images, such as CT, MRI, and DR scans. They have largely replaced the expensive and complex manual filing systems used to store physical film and provided a far more secure means of protecting patient data.

Healthcare Image Processing

One of the advantages of shifting to digital scan formats is the ability to compress images while maintaining the ability to decompress them back to their original images. Poorly optimized compression tools can deteriorate the integrity of a high-resolution image, potentially obscuring key diagnostic indicators. In order to overcome these challenges, healthcare systems need image processing features capable of supporting rapid data compression, lossless transmission, and image cleanup.

Software developers working on PACS platforms and medical applications can turn to image processing SDKs like PICTools Medical to incorporate extensive compression and decompression capabilities into their solutions. These SDK tools can help overcome a variety of diagnostic imaging challenges, ensuring that complex medical files can be processed without any degradation of quality for easy viewing and management across multiple PACS platforms.

The Role of EHR Systems

Part of the push for interoperability included the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) systems, which digitized patient files to make them easier to share between healthcare providers. One of the challenges that came along with this adoption, however, was the handling of high-resolution medical images. While most healthcare providers have implemented some form of an EHR system, many of them do not have a PACS solution, especially if they don’t do any kind of medical scanning on-site. That means their ability to view certain types of medical images is quite limited. 

In theory, the medical industry has already solved this challenge with the development of the DICOM standard. Short for “digital imaging and communications in medicine,” DICOM was originally developed in a joint venture between the American College of Radiology (ACR) and National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) to ensure that healthcare providers would be able to view medical images no matter which vendor’s modality originally created them.

Unfortunately, the size and complexity of DICOM files often make them difficult for providers to manage. For instance, most EHR systems can transmit DICOM files (through a DICOM out or DICOM send functionality), but they often cannot view or annotate them. That’s because Windows doesn’t recognize DICOM files as image files. More importantly, large DICOM files often exceed the digital transfer limits of common communication channels like email. That leads to DICOM images being transferred on physical mediums, like discs or flash drives, that include viewer software.

Unlocking the Potential of DICOM 

Healthcare technology developers can help expand EHR functionality and realize the potential of DICOM by building viewing, conversion, and compression capabilities into their applications. Medical imaging SDKs like ImageGear Medical can not only convert DICOM files into a variety of easily viewable formats, but also perform essential cleanup functions to ensure that images maintain the highest integrity possible. High-level APIs can abstract or redact the details of a DICOM file to ensure the anonymity of the patent data as well as to compress it without degrading the image, making it easy to transfer files over secure channels rather than resorting to physical mediums or non-compliant public cloud platforms.

The ability to convert DICOM files into more easily managed formats also helps providers to share more information with patients. Diagnostic scans, for instance, can be quickly opened on IoT devices like a tablet and viewed entirely within the local application without having to use special equipment. Images can even be transferred directly to patients, allowing them to conveniently view them on their own devices. And thanks to lossless compression, medical offices can transmit the source DICOM files to other organizations when referring a patient to an outside provider.

Accusoft Medical Imaging Toolkits

With more than two decades of experience working with the imaging needs of the healthcare industry, Accusoft offers a variety of medical imaging toolkits to help software developers enhance their healthcare applications. Whether you’re developing a standalone imaging solution or adding viewing, compression, and cleanup features to your EHR system, our collection of SDKs and APIs can provide core medical image functionality so you can focus on building a better user experience and get to market faster. Learn more about how our medical imaging toolkits are improving outcomes in the healthcare industry and accelerating digital transformation trends.