Mike Rhodin, SVP, IBM Watson
Today, imaging informatics not only allows physicians to resolve critical medical conditions without incisions but also renders medical practitioners with the power to measure, diagnose, and identify acute medical illnesses. This is the world of medical informatics and digital image sharing facilitates unprecedented collaboration among radiologists and physicians. According to a recent estimation by MicroMarket Monitor, a research firm, imaging informatics in the U.S. is expected to reach a value of $2.7 billion by 2018 at a CAGR of 6.3 percent. “Although there has been a marked explosion in new imaging technologies and its value delivered to patients, identifying the right image management solution can be a significant challenge for most organizations,” remarks Justin Dearborn, CEO, Merge Healthcare [NASDAQ: MRGE]. Founded in 1987, Merge leverages its decades of industry expertise in developing image and information management solutions. The company is one of the few vendors in the healthcare industry that has been able to successfully exploit the growing niche market for medical imaging informatics. Always at the forefront of recognizing unrivalled new opportunities to deliver enhanced care, Merge was recently acquired by IBM’s Watson Health business unit, bolstering the reach and effectiveness of Merge’s solutions. “With this acquisition, we’re adding expertise in managing and sharing medical images. We’ll integrate Watson’s ability to ‘see’ with a vast portfolio of health image data,” says Mike Rhodin, SVP, IBM Watson. Combining the analytics of IBM Watson with Merge’s enterprise image management solution will lead to a new paradigm in radiology, cardiology, and enterprise imaging.
Amplifying Imaging Value
Specializing in advanced enterprise imaging solutions, Merge delivers software and applications that facilitate the sharing of images to create an enhanced electronic healthcare experience for patients and physicians. For organizations suffering from increased regulatory requirements and cost pressures from changing reimbursements, Merge One—a turnkey solution—powers the entire workflow processes and addresses all imaging needs. Merge One includes tools for patient engagement, clinical reporting, and business intelligence. It brings ambulatory radiology sites the ability to power their entire business in an easy-to-manage and cloud-based environment. With a focus on giving customers a low-cost structure through per-transaction pricing, Merge One provides imaging centers with a new option to maintain and build business in today’s competitive market.
Another comprehensive product, Merge Radiology Solution delivers an integrated and fully interoperable suite of solutions. The solution accommodates the need to store, archive, and transfer images, and offers surrounding image analysis and also complies with changing market regulations.
“Our software is designed to meet the specific needs of outpatient imaging centers, from improved workflow to image, document, and revenue cycle management to Meaningful Use,” explains Dearborn.
Positioning a strong focus on workflow management, the company's cardiology solution helps cardiologists improve their workflow, by integrating patient information from different sources into a centralized web-enabled system. This consolidation enables cardiologists to quickly access a patient’s complete cardio file, generate a report, and distribute it in a single session—even from a remote location. “Our solution empowers cardiologists to focus on patient care, procedures, and exams, so that departments can operate more efficiently and cost-effectively,” says Dearborn. In the case of Baptist Health System, renowned medical facility situated in Alabama, the client used Merge’s cardiology solution to deliver streamlined workflows and structured reports. Baptist Health System was in need of a technology that would monitor patients throughout their entire cardiac procedure. Using Merge Hemo, a real-time documentation tool for the cardiac cath lab, the client was able to leverage a centralized, web-based system for report generation and distribution.
Interoperability Systems that Advance Healthcare
In addition, to seamlessly help healthcare organizations ingest, manage, store, view, share, and exchange imaging-related healthcare data, Merge’s healthcare interoperability solutions offer a unique approach to challenges faced by imaging-intensive specialists. Their interoperability solutions simplify the integration of systems and processes, not only for ambulatory imaging centers but also large Integrated Delivery Networks (IDN) that manage imaging data across multiple sites. Willis-Knighton Health System, a large non-profit community healthcare organization selected Merge’s enterprise-wide cardiology and interoperability solutions to simplify workflows and advance clinical reporting and analytics. The solutions also helped the client improve documentation for core measures and Meaningful Use requirements and enabled easier access to images, improved patient experience, and enhanced business continuity.
In another instance, to further enhance patient care, Rush-Copley Medical Center, an Aurora, IL based hospital that provides health and wellness services implemented Merge’s solution. The client wanted to replace its existing suite of imaging technology with solutions that would streamline the process for more than 170,000 radiology procedures per year. By leveraging Merge PACS, a real-time communication system and iConnect—a cloud-based image storage and management solution—the client was able to gain a consolidated view of patient health records. It also helped reduce the amount of duplicate tests, streamlined processes, and improved healthcare coordination.
Disrupting Imaging Services
Governed by a vision to expand on their cloud capabilities, Merges’s union with IBM Watson Health Cloud further aims to fuel the company’s cloud cognitive and analytics capabilities.
“The variety of new partners and use cases underscores the flexibility and scalability of the IBM Watson Health Cloud to help leaders rapidly advance the state of the art in health and wellness,” remarks Rhodin. This collaboration will also allow Merge’s clients to compare new medical images with a patient’s medical history to detect changes and anomalies. Insights generated by Watson will now help healthcare providers and researchers to pursue more personalized approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and patient monitoring. The acquisition marks a disruption in how imaging service providers leverage internal networks and external clouds.
Keeping in mind the future impact of imaging data, Merge plans to alter the very nature of healthcare delivery
Committed to help clients maximize their IT investment, the company also offers end-to-end solution support. In order to ensure improved operations and enhanced patient outcomes, Merge has created a structured program called the Merge Methodology. The implementation methodology delivers clearly-defined stages that maintain a successful project culture and result in consistent execution and effective follow-through. Furthermore, to ensure maximum system availability, Merge Monitoring—an infrastructure tool— proactively tracks and monitors environments round the clock to ensure system availability. “Merge Monitoring can easily be deployed on all Merge solutions, minimizing resource requirements, improving planning with dashboards and reports, and optimizing systems,” explains Dearborn.
Constantly modernizing and upgrading their image viewing and sharing capabilities to take advantage of cloud-based technologies, Merge will continue to improve patient care by delivering faster and easier access to images. Keeping in mind the future impact of imaging data, Merge plans to alter the very nature of healthcare delivery in the 21st century. Medical images are by far the largest and fastest-growing data sources in the healthcare industry and a current IBM researchers estimate that they account for at least 90 percent of all medical data today. “Currently, we are planning to leverage cutting-edge image analytics projects underway in IBM Research’s global labs,” reveals Dearborn. Since healthcare will be one of IBM’s biggest growth areas over the next ten years, the collaboration with Merge is only expected to deliver a futuristic and high quality care with innovative new additions in the healthcare industry. “Our goal is to drive a new era of technology-driven health, enabling entrepreneurs and industry leaders to address diverse needs, spanning the earliest stages of research all the way through to clinical care and population health through to consumer wellness,” ends Rhodin.