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VNA Systems: An Image of Interoperability

  • February 04, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Tom Foley

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Director, Global Health Solution Strategy

VNA Systems: An Image of Interoperability

One of the current revolutions in healthcare that is challenging the status quo and providing opportunity for more effective infrastructure is vendor-neutral archive (VNA). As medical imaging begins to become more prominent and more varied, health systems need a way to cope. After all, medical imaging can only be a positive part of the care process if it is readily available and accessible to those who should be using it. defines VNA as “a medical imaging technology used by healthcare professionals that stores images in a standard format and interface, making medical imaging data accessible through different picture archiving and communication systems (PACS).” VNA is enabled by the cloud, making it one part of the new term that has been coined to describe the trending movement toward cloud-based applications: cloud-native applications. Even though some industry organizations are lagging behind, many are certain that, sooner or later, cloud-native applications will encompass the future of care.

Medical imaging plays a unique role in healthcare – it can be the deciding factor in a diagnosis, a record of before and after, a guide for surgeon teams, or simply helpful information within a patient’s records. But medical imaging is also, by nature, complex information that needs to be available to the right people at the right time. David L. Powell describes what VNA could achieve for medical imaging in healthcare in a blog post for Seeking Alpha, pointing out that it could be a critical part of  providing “the ability of the patients to traverse the so-called continuum-of-care and have their associated data and records migrate along with them in a manner that ensures data persistence and ‘Meaningful Use.’”

As Powell points out, VNA has appealing benefits.  Perhaps the most valuable is the ease of access it brings. VNA makes data accessible from various sources, allowing providers, and ultimately patients, to have the capability of accessing images from any device, whenever they have the need, wherever they are. This ease of access can play an important role in data exchanges between healthcare facilities, helping organizations make strides towards complete interoperability.

In addition to advancing interoperability, VNA also puts the control of image data in providers’ hands. Furthermore, it makes the integration of new imaging applications easy, even if not provided by the current PACS vendor.

However, there are some questions surrounding VNA, including one that is as confusing as it is critical: what can be defined as truly vendor neutral? Shaun Sutner, a writer for, reports that VNA-only vendors, such as TeraMedica and Acuo “argue that only their products – as opposed to those from traditional PACS companies – enable users to look at images from various makes of hardware systems that shoot the images, with a single image viewer, their own.”

There are a variety of players pertinent to VNA. Just this year, many relationships have shifted through alignments and mergers. Fuji Medical Systems USA acquired the VNA-software firm TeraMedica, IBM acquired Merge Healthcare, and Dell Inc. acquired EMC Corporation – just to name a few. A recent article reports that “The four fully KLAS-rated vendors with the most customer adoption and the ‘strongest reputations for functionality and ongoing development’ are Acuo, Dell, Merge and TeraMedica,” according to a 2013 KLAS report.

Medical images are fraught with diversity, often coming from a variety of different parts of a healthcare system – and needing to be deciphered and accessible to just as many parts. VNA is a natural step for healthcare systems hoping to push past the barriers and further their ability to share necessary information. Penn Medicine is one example of a system that is already working toward this shift, with 18 months already invested. In a Healthcare Informatics article, Penn Medicine CIO, Michael Restuccia, says:

“I remember Jim coming into my office 18 months ago or so, and saying to me, ‘You know Mike, I’m going to imagize your electronic medical record.’ And I said ‘What do you mean by that?’ And he said ‘We have six or seven PACS systems, we’ve got dermatology and cardiology systems, and they’re all managed different and are on different platforms.’”

Penn Medicine is not the only system making moves to establish regularities to help better manage irregularities. Restuccia goes on to say something that could be true for many health systems: that “the VNA fits perfectly into the model of the three Cs: common systems (the one common VNA), centrally managed (managed out of corporate IS), and collaboratively installed.”

Healthcare systems have a lot to consider when making decisions surrounding VNAs: What content needs to be included? What VNA vendor is right for your unique system? How will the decisions you make impact other important areas of your infrastructure, such as the cloud?  As Mark Hagland, the editor-in-chief of Healthcare Informatics, plainly states: “Simply replacing an aging legacy PACS or RIS solution no longer makes sense.”

Instead, organizations need to be pragmatic about the way they approach their strategy – and they need to approach it as one, holistic strategy rather than in disjointed pieces. If VNA is going to be embraced in order to promote interoperability, access, and more, then other aspects of those goals need to be a part of the conversation. Leaders should work to implement a top-down perspective, consider all of the angles of impact, and maintain sight of what should be the final goal: making imaging a more available part of communication within patient-centric care.   

Reference Articles:

1. Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) Definition” SearchHealthIT.

2. “Healthcare And The Internet of Things” Seeking Alpha. November 16 2015

3.  “VNA systems market ramping up” SearchHealthIT. November 2014.

4.  “’Cloud Native’ What It Means, Why It Matters” InformationWeek. July 30 2015.

5. “Shifting Landscape: In the Imaging Informatics World, Everything Is Changing” Healthcare Informatics. November 16 2015.

6. “UNC Health Care System Selects Lexmark Vendor Neutral Archive, Image Viewing and Mobile Image Capture Solutions” GlobeNewswire. October 12 2015.

7.  “ On the Eve of RSNA: Scanning the Imaging Landscape with    Joe Marion” Healthcare Informatics. November 27 2015.