Special Report: VNA and Data Storage

The last seven months has seen the world deal with a number of rapid changes as Covid-19 spread across the globe, with one of the biggest changes being a switch to remote working as the default. In light of this, Jennifer Trueland investigates whether demand for vendor neutral archives (VNA) has increased across the NHS.

Vendor neutral archiving is a medical imaging technology which allows images and documents to be stored in a standard format so they can be accessed by all clinicians regardless of what system they are using.

Regardless of what you call it (vendor neutral archive or independent clinical archive), the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a greater urgency for technology that allows images and documents to be stored in a standard format so that they can be accessed by any clinician, regardless of the software they are using.

This need has been emphasied during the Covid-19 pandemic with John McCann, global senior director of marketing at BridgeHead Software, pointing out this could be down to the fact that coronavirus cases are not simple and sometimes require a number of clinicians from different departments.

“These are complex cases, and to deal with complex cases you need multiple specialists,” he says.

“You need data available in a collaborative format – you need to be able to provide it into multi-disciplinary teams, for example and these teams need to be able to collaborate and work on data, offering their opinions and expertise in areas such as kidney and heart. These are disparate specialties but you’ve got to bring them together for the benefit of the patient.

“When you add remote working into that, you need solutions that are able to access a patient record, see different images and collaborate on them from wherever you are in the country.

Emphasising the value

Despite a greater urgency for VNA technology during the pandemic, Saduf Ali-Drakesmith, international healthcare manager at Hyland, says its role has not changed but the value of it has been emphasised.

She says that pre-Covid 19, VNA “might have been seen as a steppingstone” in a healthcare organisation’s digital transformation strategy but now “it’s coming to the fore” as a tool which can help provide better care for patients.

Ali-Drakesmith also adds that as VNAs become more known, healthcare organisations are keen to make sure they get the most out of the technology, especially with regards to remote working.

This emphasis on value is echoed by Darrell Bailey, EMEA [Europe, the Middle East and Africa] senior director of sales with BridgeHead Software, who adds Covid-19 has shown how disjointed software systems across the health service are.

“What Covid highlighted was hospitals have accumulated masses of data, but not all that data is presentable, and not all that data is available in a single system,” he says.

“You have a myriad of different systems that don’t integrate with each other. Inside one hospital is bad enough for getting access to data, but when you try and tie multiple data points through multiple hospitals, such as the Nightingale hospitals, it highlights systematic failings that hospitals weren’t able to share or even collaborate on patient data.”

Drive for better services

With healthcare organisations taking a closer look at the power of data, this has spurred a demand for “good” data storage, according to Alex Ryan, EMEA sales manager with Hyland Healthcare.

By this he means storage which is easily accessible, and which has scalability, flexibility and security.

“Yes, we’d require these things in all situations, but what’s happening is that these four points are coming to the fore and are under even more scrutiny now than ever before,” he adds.

What’s on the horizon for VNA?

Looking beyond Covid-19, Ali-Drakesmith believes that the lesser known potentials of VNAs, are starting to come into the spotlight, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI).

“I think we’re going to see the greater use and adoption of AI,” she says.

“I think people are going to recognise that they’re sitting on a wealth of data that you can apply AI algorithms to and we’re going to start seeing an uptake of one which can pre-read scans.

“If you go back to the pandemic, there were several AI algorithms that came out for reading CT chests and were looking for Covid markers.

“If you could apply that to a VNA at a regional level you might be able to do things like trend analysis. You might also be able to see where the local hotspots are going to be, or what generation or age population it’s starting to hit. I think that’s really where I see us going in two or three years.

“However, right now everyone’s just trying to adapt and flex as best as they can, including vendors.
“I’m seeing vendors coming up with really slick and innovative ways of being able to enhance patient care and I’m then seeing NHS organisations being receptive of that. They’re no longer scared of new, out-of-the-box ideas; they’re embracing them. And that’s great to see.”