SIIM, industry turn corner in imaging informatics

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The Society of Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) seems to have broken out of the mold of being a purely PACS-driven educational meeting and entered a new domain within informatics focused on quality, business intelligence and communication, according to Paul Nagy, PhD, who presented lectures during the 2008 meeting in Seattle.

Nagy, director of quality and informatics research at the School of Medicine, University of Maryland in Baltimore, who is also on the program committee for the annual meeting, told Health Imaging News that the society has been working hard to change the direction of SIIM over the past few years. “We are trying to move it from being heavily involved in PACS education and I think that this year, the society has truly embodied its new mission.”

The meeting was a melting pot of radiologists, physicists, IT people, technologists and vendors who met in a collegial environment. This year’s event, he said, offered a lot more interactive sessions. “We tried to engage our attendees with the open-source plug fest and hands-on learning labs so that they were not just sitting like a sponge to absorb eight hours of lectures,” Nagy said.

Nagy said that an emerging trend from the Seattle show centers around a growing interest in business intelligence and business analytic tools.

“We saw a lot more maturity in the PACS vendors,” he said. “Administrators and vendors know it is not just about getting a PACS and installing it anymore—it is how you use it to be more competitive as a practice.”

In light of this, many vendors exhibited dashboard applications to help run systems more smoothly and enables administrators to use IT systems as a gold mine to help make better decisions as a practice, he noted.

The industry should keep an eye on business intelligence and business analytics since it is “really going to be an explosion at SIIM and other places in healthcare as we look to maximize our resources and look for other opportunities to improve the patient experience as well as the efficiency and quality of our operations,” he added.

“It [business intelligence] is really helping management, not just helping IT for IT’s sake,” Nagy said. “It is about helping management make far more effective decisions with the finite resources that they have and I think that is going to be a trend that continues.”

Two scientific sessions, “Image Acquisition and QA” and “Vocabularies and Ontologies,” stood out from the rest for Nagy. In “Image Acquisition,” participants covered topics from technologist peer review to reject analysis and image quality monitoring.

“We had a stellar session on quality control and how PACS is no longer used primarily as a clinical workflow device but as a knowledge base for quality methods, for doing reject analysis, to manage equipment. Leveraging informatics techniques to understand good image quality is going to be a fun challenge,” he said.

In “Vocabularies and Ontologies,” participants explored lexicon usage and how searching for data in the report and through the internet can provide decision support to make diagnosis and to educate referring physicians and patients. “Decision support is going to be another area that explodes in the next few years in terms of helping the radiologist make a diagnosis and communicate that better to patients and referring physicians directly,” he added.

Overall, Nagy said that the sessions and presentations presented a compelling case for the “ladder of leadership” for a practicing imaging informatics professional in a hospital. “Today, they might be a PACS administrator, but we showed them methods to become far more than that—to become the information power brokers of their departments and practice to help management make better decisions.”

“The job of the PACS administrator yesterday was to install, support and ensure PACS was running. Now it is changing into a role where companies ask, can this person help drive the strategic vision of the department to leverage IT to improve its mission?” Nagy concluded.