Successful imaging centers rely on workflow, IT infrastructure and peer network

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SEATTLE—Imaging centers increasingly work to provide the same experience with digital images as large institutions; however, even with PACS in the mix, challenges still exist, according to James T. Whitfill, MD, chief information officer of Scottsdale Medical Imaging, during a presentation Thursday at the Society of Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) conference.

“Imaging continues to move out of the radiology departments and into other ‘ologies,’ however, these new areas do not have the infrastructure for sharing information,” Whitfill said. The goal of the Hot Topic session was for imaging informatics professionals to share their experience with workflow, IT infrastructure and peer support to provide different perspectives for how these challenges can be met.

“Our goal is to provide you with different perspectives today to take back with you for you to make your own decisions,” he said.

According to Whitfill, there is wide variety in imaging center operations which results in a wide range of imaging informatics practices within each individual center.

Most imaging centers in the United States are smaller than a community hospital and typically perform less than 75,000 exams per year. “It is clear that imaging centers with a volume of 300,000 annual procedure volume are not the norm.”

Just as there are imaging centers that range in size and imaging procedure volume, each can have a different business mission as well. “It is generally a fifty-fifty split—pure business or investor owned,” he said. Some centers may be owned by the radiologists or owned by investors.

Just as the theme of SIIM is Building Bridges, Whitfill said that imaging centers need to build bridges to the smaller centers—of which an overwhelming majority do not have PACS. “They are constrained by many of the challenges that are being discussed during the show,” he said.

PACS has not penetrated imaging centers across the United States mainly because the majority are smaller sites that often have access to fewer resources, different cultural norms, different missions and economic contributions to different PACS experience from within an integrated healthcare delivery system, Whitfill concluded.

Understanding the challenges of implementing a robust IT infrastructure with limited resources and a wide geographic environment will be the key to the survival of imaging centers, according to Arne Meis, who presented “IT Infrastructure within an Imaging Center Environment” during the Hot Topic Session.

IT has to be priority number one – “you have to prepare for what is coming down the road,” he said. To be successful, an imaging center must focus on IT infrastructure, said Meis. “It is not just the icing on the cake – it is needed.”

In an imaging center, the sole focus should really be on having an IT infrastructure in place to support the wide variety of imaging modalities. Successful centers have specialized staffing and dedicated hardware – used for imaging informatics alone, tends to be focused strategic direction, reduced red tape, and direct customer service access—“meaning that we have group of customer that come to us for one product arrangement.”

The Hot Topic session concluded with a presentation from Victoria Meyers, PACS special projects coordinator, Scottsdale Medical Imaging, who discussed the importance of connecting with other local imaging professionals in her presentation “Avoiding the Imaging Center Island: Creating a Local Peer Support Network.”