PACS procurement: Structured, yet unique

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SEATTLE—The process of PACS procurement is highly structured; however the requirements of the purchasing institution are unique and specific only to that organization, according to George H. Bowers, principal of Health Care Information Consultants and chair of the Imaging Informatics Professional (IIP) Subcommittee of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) Education Committee. Bowers spoke during the 2008 SIIM pre-conference symposium held Wednesday on education and certification preparation for Imaging Informatics Professionals (IIP) symposium.

Those professionals seeking to demonstrate competency in the procurement objective of the certified imaging informatics professional (CIIP) exam should be knowledgeable of an organization’s readiness for the digital environment; be able to establish and implement a process for vendor selection; and contribute their expertise to vendor contract negotiation. “PACS is most successful when it supports the overall business objectives of the organization,” Bowers said. 

When it comes to selecting a PACS vendor, Bowers cautioned the audience that this is a long-term relationship and that they should choose their partner wisely.

“The criteria for evaluating a PACS vendor are multi-faceted,” he noted. This includes the functionality of the system, its cost of operation, the capability of the vendor to support the system, and the vendor’s capability to stay in business and support its clients.

“There is no PACS vendor that can be all for every customer—there is a need to understand fit,” he stated.

This requires that an IIP understand that each organization’s needs are unique to it. These requirements will reflect the culture, management capabilities, information technology capabilities, and the financial capabilities of the organization, Bowers observed.

The structure of the PACS procurement process has six elements, he said:

1. Organize the selection process
2. Define your requirements
3. Request proposals from vendors
4. Analyze vendor proposals
5. Negotiate the contract
6. Begin implementation.

Organizing the selection process requires the formation of a PACS vendor selection committee. This group needs to include all key stakeholders in a PACS, including: radiology, IT, institution administration, and physicians.

“Include those who are going to complain most bitterly up front in the selection process,” Bowers advised. Co-opting the “noisemakers” early in a PACS selection blunts their ability to be a disruptive influence later on in the procurement process, he noted.

The committee needs to define the selection process for determining the eventual PACS vendor, according to Bowers. The process should be legitimate, structured, well-understood, well-communicated, and must reflect the culture of the organization.

IIPs will then want to accomplish the task of defining PACS requirements. Bowers counseled that they should use the organization’s strategic plan as their starting point. “What are the factors that are important to the organization; and how can these factors be turned into requirements?” he suggested.

One of the important caveats that IIPs should keep in mind for procurement is that a PACS is much more than a technology product.

“PACS is an information system,” Bowers stated. “It is not a piece of imaging equipment.”