Cloud in medical imaging: 3 takeaways from RSNA webinar on the benefits to radiologists

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Merge recently had the great privilege of participating in an RSNA webinar on the benefits of cloud in medical imaging. It was a fruitful, wide-ranging discussion about demystifying some of the complexities surrounding cloud-based imaging solutions – along with how, and why, radiologists and their organizations can leverage the cloud to reap new benefits for optimizing workflows, mitigating burnout, and improving patient care.

We were joined by experts from two imaging organizations that have partnered with Merge – Leonard Santos, director of IT and clinical ancillary services at MultiCare Health System in Washington, and Martin Sadler, executive director of IT and digital for Sandwell Hospital NHS Trust in England. Both brought valuable clinical and administrative perspectives to why cloud is such a gamechanger for imaging – and, most helpfully, some real nuts-and-bolts guidelines for how imaging organizations can actually adopt cloud as part of their workflows to start reaping real, tangible results.

Here were some key takeaways from the conversation.


It’s one thing to aspire to adopting cloud into your imaging workflows – but how do you actually, practically do it? Martin shared Sandwell Hospital’s experience in how they executed their migration from two data centers to the cloud:

It was a methodical, two-year process, but at the end of it, all patient images had been successfully migrated to the cloud, without any hiccups in how their radiologists accessed these images in the process.

Meanwhile, MultiCare is currently on a hybrid-cloud model, where newer images are stored on-premises, while images older than five years are in the cloud. This helps provide speedy retrievals for when radiologists need to pull patients’ prior images.


Security and privacy over patients’ images are paramount concerns, to both clinicians and patients, and there may be a temptation to think that public clouds are less secure than private data centers. But as Leonard pointed out, the opposite is actually true – moving images to the cloud can be more secure than the old school, on-premises methods. That’s because cloud adds a whole new layer of security compliance for imaging organizations.

For example, Sandwell Hospital encrypts its images on their way both in and out of the cloud. During that retrieval, patient details are separated from the image, only reunited upon receipt at the physician’s workstation, so the image itself always remains anonymized in transit. The combination of encryption and separation of image and personally identifying information (PII) helps create new layers of redundancy to protect patients’ privacy. MultiCare uses other protocols, like zero trust access, to check logs and individually determine which users are allowed to access particular images within the hospital’s environment, and when they can do it.

Scalability and availability

When asked about the benefits of cloud that you don’t have when running on a data center, the first features the group jumped to? Scalability and availability.

When storing data on your own hardware, access to archived images is slower and harder. If a radiologist is trying to pull a patient’s priors, it can take time to pull those images from the server – and the longer they have to wait on image retrieval, the more of an impediment it becomes to patient care. Cloud provides real-time access to patient images; that can accelerate the speed at which radiologists can retrieve patient images, so that they aren’t waiting around for images (and patient care isn’t stalling as a result). It also broadens how those images can be made accessible. Rather than needing to sit at a specific workstation, tied to a specific pipe to retrieve images, now end users can use any (compliant) device – desktop, mobile, on-site, off-site, in a different room, in a different facility – to access patient images. This any time, any place access for images is a significant contrast from what on-prem storage can provide. Cloud-backed availability means meeting radiologists where they are – both figuratively and physically – to accelerate patient care and create better work experiences.

The same is true for scalability. Because cloud servers can be scaled up and down as needed, health systems and hospitals can reap significant cost savings from eliminating what would’ve otherwise been wasted computing power. You pay for what you need and nothing more. This scalability also helps ensure that software upgrades can be performed without any downtime; you can always shift to other environments in the cloud, so that upgrades are done without disrupting the radiologist’s work. That scalability helps reinforce cloud’s always-on, always-up availability at the same time.

This blog is only scratching the surface of the discussion, which touched on many more best practices and benefits of cloud for imaging – including optimizing staffing, reducing capital costs, and adopting IT trainings to help ease the transition from on-prem to the cloud. At the end of the day, every imaging organization’s journey to the cloud will be different. Some will, by design, be slower in moving their data to the cloud; others will be more aggressive.

Ultimately what matters most as you embark on an enterprise cloud journey (besides making the decision to actually embark on that journey!) is finding the right partner. As the group discussed, the right partner can effectively take away 60-70% of the job of managing PACS and other imaging solutions, so that more of your time is spent on helping patients.

This RSNA education session offered plenty of real-life examples and anecdotes that made cloud-based imaging innovations easier to understand. By bringing together this diverse panel, RSNA helped viewers to compare and contrast various approaches, and how the flexibility of cloud allows every imaging organization to embark on their own unique journey.

If you’re interested in learning more about the imaging solutions that Merge can offer to help your cloud journey, as we have with MultiCare and Sandwell, you can check them out here.