Defining the PACS Administrator's Role in a Changing Environment

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As the market for picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) expands, demand is increasing for skilled PACS administrators. A diverse background and wide-ranging expertise are key attributes to handling PACS duties successfully. But ask 10 different PACS administrators about the most important aspects of their job and you'll likely get 10 different answers.

Because PACS administration is a relatively new field, job descriptions, qualifications and training programs vary among healthcare organizations. So what exactly does a PACS administrator do, and what does it take to do it well? Read on.

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

Early PACS administrators were seen as little more than technical support people who managed system problems. Things are different now, says Paul Nagy, Ph.D., director of the radiology informatics lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin and an advocate of standardizing the role of the PACS administrator. "What's really needed now is a strategic knowledge worker - not a firefighter," Nagy says.

Without a standard job description, job duties often are determined by a healthcare facility's budget and its PACS management needs.

Once a PACS is operational, an administrator's day-to-day responsibilities also change. The PACS Administrators duties include:

  • PACS management, maintenance and troubleshooting
  • End-user training
  • Workflow management and redesign
  • Physician relations
  • Administration and integration
  • Development of PACS policies and guidelines
  • Vendor management
  • Expanding the system to new customers and modalities
  • Reading room design

If a healthcare facility or clinic is in the process of implementing a PACS, the job responsibilities also likely cover:

  • The development of a strategic vision for the PACS
  • Vendor selection, negotiation and management
  • PACS steering committee development and participation
  • Financial assessments and cost estimates
  • Management of the project installation
  • Intergration of employee training on the system

Lisa Gonsalves' work day is typical of many PACS administrators. In that position for Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, Calif., she spends a great deal of time on PACS maintenance issues, such as daily system checks, handling customer support issues and training new physicians and staff. Gonsalves, who's been Little Co.'s PACS administrator for a year and a half, also coordinates large projects that include the remodeling of the facility's radiology reading room and an outpatient center PACS installation.

A common PACS installation practice is for the vendor to provide an on-site administrator during the first year of operation. Gonsalves manages PACS with another administrator who has been on contract from Little Co.'s PACS vendor (Philips Medical Systems) since the installation was completed nearly a year ago. Gonsalves credits the Philips administrator with helping to educate her on the IT and networking aspects of PACS management. With the first year of the installation nearly over, the Philips administrator is being replaced by a new hospital employee, with whom Gonsalves expects to equally split responsibilities.

Daren Burns, PACS administrator for the 471-bed St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif., focuses less on daily maintenance than Gonsalves. Burns says that since implementing Stentor's iSite PACS in March, most of his time is spent in marketing and development. Daily maintenance has become the responsibility of the hospital-employed PACS coordinator. "I keep looking to develop the system outside of radiology," Burns says. "When I come in everyday, I want to make sure a new
clinical person or referring physician is exposed to it and gets [signed up]."

Currently, Burns is working to integrate St. Joseph's echocardiography and cardiac catheterization labs with the PACS. "If you pick the right system, you can transition others [to handle maintenance activities]," he explains. "We took our file room people and transitioned them. You don't need as many [full-time equivalents, or FTEs] and the ones who stay around become more involved in the PACS."

Burns says that getting the right PACS is critical. "Most PACS administrators put out fires all day, because their systems don't work," he says. "What this system allows you to do is to develop it instead of babysit."

The transition from film to digital has been relatively easy and was completed overnight, according to Burns. "The hardest thing about PACS is teaching the techs the new flow of information," he adds.