PACS certification: two valid options

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Many healthcare career paths are built on continuing education, and different ways of obtaining ascension into higher levels of the profession are available. The most obvious method is through achieving academic degrees. Another path is through acquiring professional certifications that are built along a logical progression of tasks or skill sets.

As the PACS administrator profession grows, so have the opportunities to obtain certification. Two organizations currently provide certification for PACS administrators: the American Board of Imaging Informatics (ABII) and the PACS Administrators Registry and Certification Association (PARCA).

The ABII offers the Certified Imaging Informatics Professional (CIIP) exam and PARCA offers a tract of exams that cumulate in the Certified PACS System Manager. I have had the opportunity to obtain both the CIIP exam from ABII and the CPSA level of certification through PARCA.

A comparison of these two methods of certification is an ongoing hot topic among PACS administrators in the field. Regardless of which side you take or which certification method you prefer, there are unique aspects of each certification method that warrant consideration.

ABII


The ABII and its CIIP exam were introduced during the 2007 Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) conference. The CIIP exam, for the short time of its existence, has developed an interesting collection of myths associated to it.

One myth is that it is associated with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). This is not true. Yes, the CIIP exam has undergone psychometric development similar to that of the ARRT exams, but it is in no way associated with the ARRT. The fact that the ARRT has served as a model for building the exam should be a comfort to those who sit for the CIIP in that it follows the many years of tradition that the ARRT exam has developed. No one can deny the fact that the ARRT is an obvious benchmark for testing in the medical imaging profession.

Another myth I hear debated among many PACS administrators is that there is no way to prepare for the CIIP exam. This also is not true. The ABII website provides the test content outline, which is a clear definition of the subject matter that can be found on the exam. Understanding each of these topics will help a CIIP candidate prepare for the exam. There are multiple ways to prepare for the CIIP exam. The best way to study for the exam is to simply be a PACS administrator for a year or two--especially during an implementation, upgrade or replacement of a major system, such as PACS, voice recognition, or a hospital information system (HIS) or RIS. Understanding and gaining experience in both clinical workflows and information system components is critical for being ready for this exam. Networking and attending seminars are also beneficial to gain critical knowledge for your profession and the exam.

PARCA


PARCA and the series of exams that encompass various levels of PARCA certification started a few years prior to the CIIP exam. This certification consists of a three-tier exam system. The entry-level exam Certified PACS Associate (CPAS) is made up of two tests. The first test evaluates a PACS administrator on their technical knowledge. The second test evaluates the PACS administrator on their clinical knowledge. These tests can be taken in any order but are both required to progress to the next tier.

Upon reaching the second tier, a candidate can take the Certified PACS Interface Analyst (CPIA) exam. The CPIA exam tests an individual on their understanding of DICOM and HL7. It also tests troubleshooting skills in both areas. Another certification option at the second tier is the Certified PACS Systems Analyst (CPSA) exam, which tests an individual on their ability and understanding of the various components of a PACS and system administration. Both of these certifications are required for a candidate to ascend to the third-their exam level.

The Certified PACS System Manager (CPSM) is the final certification and requires passing an all-encompassing exam. Holding this certification demonstrates that an individual has an advanced understanding of all imaging informatics topics, which include image quality, advanced DICOM and HL7, security and systems integration.

As with the CIIP exam there are myths associated with the PARCA certification. The primary myth that I hear discussed is that you must study with materials from a specific organization in order to pass this exam. I can assure you that this is not true; I have never purchased any study materials from a PARCA sponsor, all preparation for PARCA exams were based on my own experiences and learning.

Conclusion


Before giving my personal opinions of both certifying organizations, I feel compelled to offer a disclosure. I am a member of the CIIP item review committee as well as a CIIP item writer. I'll also reiterate that I hold both the CIIP and the CPSA certification.

Both of these organizations offer positive things for PACS administrators. Each offers recognition that the individual has obtained a certain level of knowledge and understanding of the components and complexities of imaging informatics in today's healthcare environment. Additionally, both offer an increased level of professionalism in the rapidly evolving PACS administrator career. However, there are distinct aspects of each certification path.

I believe the CIIP demonstrates concrete knowledge of PACS and the various components that interface with PACS. Additionally, I think the individual who holds a CIIP certification assures an employer or an organization of a higher level of survivability during the crisis moments that imaging informatics can sometimes bring. It does this by assuring an understanding of all aspects of PACS encountered during day-to-day operations.

I believe the PARCA exams series also demonstrates concrete knowledge of PACS and all of the components involved. PARCA certification likewise assures an employer that an individual is qualified to operate autonomously in the imaging informatics field. Additionally, I would offer that the PARCA exams evaluate an individual on their ability to understand all of the aspects of imaging informatics that a PACS administrator may encounter throughout their career.

Ultimately, both certifying organizations hold critical places in the PACS administrator profession. As PACS administrators we should work to obtain all levels of certification that we can.


John Sole, RT (R)(CT), CPSA, CIIP, is president of the Rockton, Ill.-based healthcare IT firm J.S. PACS as well as publisher of the web site PACS-Admin.com, a news and information resource for PACS administrators.