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Digital imaging speeds up NHS treatment

Film-based X-rays on the way out

Film-based X-rays are quickly disappearing in the UK, as healthcare facilities switch to a digital system that can send instantly images of broken bones and fractured ribs over a network to different clinics.

The system, known as the Pacs (Picture Archiving and Communications Systems), is working in half the clinics in England, the NHS said today.

PAacs has been a noted success of the NHS' 10-year plan to modernise its IT system, a project marred by criticism over its price tag and procurement problems.

The NHS will invest more than £1bn in Pacs through 2014. Overall, the NHS' plan - the National Program for IT - is estimated to cost £12.4bn.

The Pacs project is one that the public can most easily understand the benefits since it eliminates treatment delays while images were physically sent to specialists, said Tola Sargeant, a public IT infrastructure analyst at Ovum in London.

"As soon as the image is taken, it's available for consultants to look at," Sargeant said.

Health officials can quickly access records over a secure broadband network called the N3 (New National Network). The system has also reduced the number of lost X-rays, since they're securely stored on the network.

Pacs eliminates film and developing costs, the NHS said. Images are viewed on a computer screen, also eliminating lightboxes and microfiche readers, the NHS said.

In August, the NHS said more than 45 million images are stored on the network, representing some 2.7 million patient exams.

The NHS said the system will help it achieve a goal of no more than 18 weeks between when a patient is referred and eventually receives treatment.

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