Live from SIIM: Getting a Clear Picture in Imaging Informatics

June 24, 2011
Just as some of the overarching issues facing IT executives are becoming clearer of late in healthcare in general, so, too, are things crystallizing

Just as some of the overarching issues facing IT executives are becoming clearer of late in healthcare in general, so, too, are things crystallizing in the imaging informatics area. That was apparent this afternoon, as leaders of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) pondered the current questions facing imaging informatics at the organization’s press conference during its annual meeting, being held May 15-18 in Seattle.

With approximately 3,000 attendees, 132 exhibiting vendors, and filling the 80,000-square-foot exhibit floor at the WashingtonStateConvention and TradeCenter in Seattle, the Leesburg, Va.-based SIIM’s annual conference has virtually an intimate feel compared to the gigantic annual HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) and RSNA (Radiological Society of North America) conferences, whose attendance numbers generally run to about 25,000 and 65,000, respectively. But there is also a concentration of focus at SIIM that tends to facilitate some very focused discussions.

SIIM leaders, when asked at the organization’s press conference by this reporter what the top issues facing the imaging informatics area and professionals are, agreed that moving imaging informatics toward enterprise-wide functionality and management, creating information systems integration, improving clinician workflow (including that of radiologists, but also of all the other physicians and other clinicians involved with images), securing patient-specific images and data, and enhancing the patient experience, are among the top issues now.

As Curtis P. Langlotz, M.D., Ph.D., vice-chair for informatics and an associate professor of radiology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System (Philadelphia), the current chair of SIIM’s board of directors, put it, “When I go to work in the morning, I have two log into three systems, and I have two keyboards and two mice. And that’s too much. And these are things computers ought to do well.” In addition, Langlotz said, referring to a just-concluded debate on the suitability of using an IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) approach to integration, versus that of using an SOA (service-oriented architecture) approach, “You can see that people are thinking of using one of those approaches, or some combination of the two.” Langlotz also cited the issue of inter-clinician communication. “I think more of the attention soon will go to areas like radiologists’ reports,” he said, “and how they communicate the information. In particular, is that information captured in a way that can become an integral part of the EMR? And can it be cross-correlated, including on the research side with bio-markers and so forth?”

Bradley J. Erickson, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Radiology Informatics Division at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, noted that “There are three categories I would add on. From a political perspective, we’ve been too focused on radiology specifically,” he emphasized. “We also struggle with the image volume issue. And,” he said, “from a scientific standpoint, we’re struggling with validation: getting validated data sets on images is becoming particularly important.”

With particular regard to CIOs’ imperatives in the current operating environment, said George H. Bowers, principal of Health Care Information Consultants, LLC, Baltimore, “From this organization’s perspective, a major challenge is figuring out what imaging informatics will mean to the electronic health record.” Integrating image management and the electronic medical record will both a challenge for individual patient care organizations, and for the leadership of the industry, and the SIIM organization, going forward, he said.

That will be particularly true as the sharing of diagnostic images moves beyond individual enterprises and into trans-organizational sharing, added Eliot L. Siegel, M.D., chief of radiology and nuclear imaging for the Veterans Affairs Maryland Healthcare System (Baltimore).

SIIM’s leaders echoed at the press conference some of the same themes that are being explored throughout this conference. For CIOs and other senior executives in healthcare IT, the message seems clear: just as at the larger, broader IT conferences, some of the same themes are resounding across this imaging informatics-targeted one: the imperatives toward integration, workflow improvement, enterprise-wide functionality and data management, and preparation for the future of healthcare IT. And, as everywhere, the sense of urgency and time-sensitivity is only growing.

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