The Path to PACS Administration

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With new technologies come calls for people to implement, maintain and manage those technologies. In healthcare, particularly, the advent and growth of PACS (picture archiving and communications systems) has radiology departments calling for PACS administrators - a position with job responsibilities as numerous and varied as the hospitals looking to fill those positions. Will the person who selects the PACS and supervises its installation be required to train clinical staff, for example? Should the hospital lean toward someone who knows radiology or someone whose expertise is focused on information technology (IT)? And for anyone considering PACS administration as a career change: What combination of education, ability and interest will get you there?

Recruiter Wils Bell, owner of Professional Resources Inc. in Orlando, Fla., suggests that employers are still figuring out what they want in a PACS administrator.

"I've got a client now that has been telling me for the last three months that the facility needs a PACS administrator, but they don't know what they need," he relates. "They're trying to get together with all the people who might be involved, so they can come up with a job description. It's no different than any company trying to come up with a new position: What will this position be? How large a scope of responsibilities will there be?"


Karen Jennings, PACS manager at the University of Utah, Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City, was a registered nurse with a bachelor's degree running clinical trials for the department of surgery when she began taking courses toward a masters in informatics, originally to boost her research skills. While working on her degree, she was recruited first to help develop a vendor's rules-based decision support system, then to help the university hospital implement its patient medical records system.

In 2001, as director of customer service for the IT Services department, she was anointed PACS manager when radiology expressed concern for its Marconi Medical Systems' PACS running Applicare's RadWorks software: GE Healthcare had acquired RadWorks when it purchased Applicare in 1999, and Philips Medical Systems bought Marconi in 2001. Initially neither company addressed the service component, says Jennings.

"The radiology department approached the CIO and said: 'We do radiology; you do IT. Can you take this over for us?' "

Jennings' first order of business was to attend a weeklong class on PACS administration at SG &A Consulting in Arlington, Texas. Her second was to create a support team consisting of two radiologists, one radiology technologist and a system administrator.

"When I have a radiology-type question, I go to a radiologist. When it's a tech-type question or getting down to the nitty-gritty stuff, I go to the tech. But I handle all communications and integration of everything else."

Jennings' main focus over the last year has been picking a new Philips' Inturis radiology PACS, figuring out how to pay for the new installation, and managing its integration and implementation. That includes interfacing the Allegra HIS (hospital information system) with the IDX Systems' RIS (radiology information system) and then integrating the RIS and the PACS. With the assistance of a Philips trainer on-site, she helps train users on the system.

Additionally, she is selecting PACS equipment for two new ambulatory and cancer centers, and ensuring that the network is in place for those facilities.

"Being a communicator is one of my strengths," Jennings assesses, "and [PACS] offers unlimited potential for career growth. Within a short time as a nurse, I felt I had reached my career cap. I wanted to be more responsible. I wanted to more in charge of what I do."


Steve Watkins credits his foresight - and his desire to be part of what he saw as the technological revolution in radiology - with his path to PACS administration.

A registered radiologic technologist since 1978, Watkins had been working at Swedish Medical Center, an HCA-affiliated hospital in Englewood, Colo., for about 14 years when he enrolled in Denver Technical College, graduating in three years with a bachelor's degree in network systems administration. While attending school, he garnered PACS experience at another Denver-area healthcare facility. When Swedish was in the market for a PACS administrator about a year ago, hospital officials asked Watkins to return.

Swedish, meanwhile, had