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April, 11 2022
Medical Technology

What are DICOM Images? Everything you need to know

April, 11 2022 3 minute read

If you grew up wanting to be a doctor, after seeing TV shows such as House MD, Scrubs, or Grey's Anatomy you probably expected that your day-to-day involved holding an X-Ray against a backlight and discussing a case with colleagues.

While this might have short of happened at some point, this approach is, nowadays, rather obsolete. Hospitals and clinics have integrated digital health approaches that eliminated scenarios like the one we’ve just described – we are very sorry if you got disappointed. It’s for the better.

This technical evolution was made possible thanks to DICOM, a technology used in healthcare to enhance how imaging data is stored and transmitted within hospitals and clinics.

You might think that, just like knowing how the lights go on and off, this knowledge might seem irrelevant to your day-to-day activity. But that’s not true. Understanding DICOM and having good knowledge of how to use it can bring new tools to your clinical practice.

This article will clarify the information that you always wondered about – such as what file format is a CT scan –, but also touchpoints like:

DICOM and XRay

What is DICOM and how it's used?

DICOM means Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine and is the standard file format used to transmit medical images. When a patient is submitted to a radiology exam, such as a CT Scan, the imaging information is converted into a DICOM file. This file is a universal format that can be understood by different systems.

From a day-to-day viewpoint, it can be compared to a PDF file. Word processors create documents in PDF files to make sure that the information is not messed up when read on a different system – for example, a printer or a different operating system. 

The same principle is applied to DICOM. Imaging equipment manufacturers, like CT Scans or MRIs, need a universal format that can be understood by other types of equipment.

However, more than communication between devices, using DICOM brings several advantages to clinical practice.

In the classic format of radiology exams, support information would be attached to a physical folder containing the exam. However, the digitalization of information is another reason DICOM in radiology is a transformation for the better.

Patient information such as name, identification number, the reason for exam, and medical report can be attached to the DICOM file. This reduces drastically both storage costs and how information systems are used to make the clinical data flow, as radiologists can make comments or notes to colleagues (such as orthopedic surgeons) that they are sure won't be lost.

Another step toward a paper-free more sustainable hospital.

However, in communications in medicine, DICOM is not the only player. PACS is an essential part to optimize the process. How?

Paper free Hospital

What is the difference between DICOM and PACS?

PACS, which stands for Picture Archiving and Communication System, allows for information to be stored and transmitted within a healthcare organization. Often healthcare professionals try to compare DICOM vs PACS. 

These, however, are complementary to each other and not competitors and what healthcare institutions should look for is how DICOM integrates with PACS.

In short, a PACS Server (or system) is how the information travels and is stored. DICOM files, on the other hand, are the “language” used for this process to happen and for different types of equipment to understand each other.

Another practical day-to-day example would be that two people can talk to each other, but the communication would be optimized if they both speak the same language. For that matter, what a DICOM format is in healthcare can be summarized as a universal language between PACS systems.

As we’ve pointed out, DICOM eliminates the need for physical folders with exams. Combined with PACS, imaging equipment can transfer the patient exam and information directly and instantly to the radiology station for reporting and later, for instance, to the orthopedic surgeon for evaluation.

As such, comparing PACS vs DICOM does not make sense, as they are two parts of a whole.

New Imaging Technologies: how DICOM integrates with PACS

Combined with PACS, the use of DICOM brings huge advantages to healthcare.

Integrating DICOM and PACS technology in their imaging systems, healthcare is reducing costs and boosting efficiency – while still opening doors to new clinical technologies such as orthopedic digital templating, in the case of orthopedic surgery.

In the case of orthopedics, PeekMed integrates with all PACS systems. This allows for orthopedic surgeons to access the network, search for a specific patient, and in a matter of seconds import the DICOM files directly to the preoperative planning system.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for the use of Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine combined with other technologies, tho. As we’ve pointed out, orthopedic technology is on the rise and influencing and improving solutions such as DICOM, too.

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    Peek Health develops innovative technological solutions for preoperative planning, contributing to the increasing quality of orthopedics and healthcare services, providing added value to its surgeons and patient, making the surgery more predictable, effective, and safe.