Calling all PACS Administrators

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PACS administrators, new and established, need effective training and a strong focus on vital communications skills. Here are some best-bets for training, including independent and vendor programs around the country.

Finding and training the ideal PACS administrator is a tough task. The position requires both IT and clinical workflow skills, and most sites need to create the ideal candidate since PACS administrators are still a small bunch. Prospective PACS administrators also need another critical skill set - communications. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta PACS Administrator Dave Moyer points out, "PACS impacts the entire facility. The administrator must have great communication skills to work with other departments and referring physician offices."

John Velleka, manager of radiology PACS professional services group for Philips Medical Systems, adds "The quality of the PACS administrator really makes or breaks the project implementation." It's a heavy load, and most PACS administrators need some training to help them master the complex role.

Prospective PACS administrators may start the process by taking a system administration course. In fact, some vendors, such as Philips, require an HP system administration course as a prerequisite for its PACS training course.

The first-line training for nearly all PACS sites is on-site vendor training, which should be part of the purchase contract. On-site training typically teaches new administrators how to administer the hospital's specific PACS, including how to operate the system, integrate with the RIS and manage daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks. This training is geared to the experience level and needs of the customer. Take, for example, SourceOne (Mentor, Ohio). The company sends an applications specialist to conduct seven to 10-day, hands-on training with administrators, techs and clinicians. The specialist follows up with five days of additional training one month after the initial session. Siemens Medical Solutions offers a one-week basic course and a three-week advanced course for experienced administrators. "There's nothing like getting trained on your own system," Velleka points out. "This type of training is offered in a timely manner and often completes the installation process."

Another option is offsite vendor training. Eastman Kodak offers training at its facility in Dallas. Offsite vendor training can help new administrators prepare for the transition to PACS. Some PACS administrators reinforce new skills and close any gaps in their training by completing an in-house vendor training and following it with an offsite training course.

A final vendor option is a 'rent an administrator' program. The vendor provides intense on-the-job training through an on side system administrator. Typically, the hospital employee designated as the permanent PACS administrator shadows the vendor administrator and assumes responsibility for the position after 3, 6, 12 or 24 months.

But PACS vendors aren't the only training option. Some healthcare facilities start the process through training held by universities, professional associations or private consulting groups. SG&A Consulting (Arlington, Tex.) President Stuart Gardner says, "The advantage of our training program is that it is totally vendor-neutral." In fact, many SG&A students are employed by sites that have not yet selected a PACS vendor, and the knowledge gained during the training is used to guide the selection. The courses also meet the needs of prospective administrators who want to prepare for a PACS administrator position with a new employer.

The PACS learning process continues after the initial training. Most major PACS vendors offer advanced training that provides more detailed and thorough examination of clinical and technical PACS issues for experienced administrators. Fujifilm Medical Systems (Stamford, Conn.) sponsors an annual Digital X-Ray and PACS Forum that reviews current and future technologies and applications. The forum includes clinical and technical lectures, panel discussions and hands-on workshops; this type of training can help administrators continue to learn and prepare for future challenges by exchanging information and experiences with other administrators and industry leaders.

PACS Admin Training Schools

Indiana University: Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Radiology (Indianapolis) features a dedicated, live PACS training center and holds eight, three-day PACS training courses per year. Courses cover planning, implementing and managing PACS and either special issues for small sites and imaging centers or advanced applications training for GE Centricity PACS users. http://www.indyrad.iupui.edu/public/rewards

Michener Institute: Michener Institute (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) offers a one-year online course that includes a weekend workshop and four-week clinical practicum for prospective PACS administrators. A PACS Administrator certificate is awarded at the conclusion of the course. http://www.michener.ca/ce/postdiploma/pacs.php

OTech: OTech (Crossroads, Tex.) offers a vendor-neutral, blended learning PACS system administration course that uses books, CDs, personal training and a site visit. CDs and books serve as a resource after course completion. OTech focuses on instruction in PACS technologies, DR/CR, DICOM, HL7 and HIPAA as well as image quality issues. http://www.otechimg.com

Radiology Consulting Group: Radiology Consulting Group (Boston) offers a PACS administrator training school at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. This school is designed to help participants understand PACS technology fundamentals, integrate modalities and other information systems to PACS, analyze radiologist workflow and implement quality assurance procedures. http://www.thercg.com/main_files/services/pacs_training_2004.html

Society for Computer Applications in Radiology: SCAR University (Great Falls, Va.), held at the annual meeting in the spring, features introductory, intermediate, advanced and graduate level courses focused on all aspects of digital imaging including quality assurance, economics and productivity. SCAR also offers a one-day PACS Administration Course at the annual meeting geared toward radiologists, CIOs, project managers and PACS administrators trying to bring their facility filmless. The course is designed to provide a decision support matrix for what the PACS team should be doing, including core competencies of PACS administration and an overview of the roles of the three role areas: business, technical and users. Online courses are also offered through SCAR U online. http://www.scarnet.org/html/scaruniversity.html

SG&A Consulting, Inc.: SG&A Consulting, Inc. (Arlington, Tex.) offers five-day PACS Administrator Training Schools throughout the country. The course provides a comprehensive overview of the basics of PACS administration including: DICOM, HIPAA, HL7, workflow diagramming, voice recognition, teleradiology and project management. http://www.sgaconsulting.com