There are very, very few people in the industry with deeper, broader perspectives on RSNA-related goings-on than Scott Grier and Joe Marion, both of whom have been trusted sources (and in Joe’s case, a trusted blogger) for Healthcare Informatics for years. And this year, as in past years, Joe and Scott, who are among the top consultants in imaging IT (as well as in healthcare IT more broadly) nationwide, are both here at the RSNA Conference as usual, observing, meeting with leaders in the radiological and imaging informatics worlds, and sorting and sifting what they’re seeing and learning this year. And what do they see?
“Image mobility is really taking off at a high rate of speed,” Grier says. “Virtually every vendor I’ve interviewed over the past two days has had some type of service or solution that they can show on an iPad or iPhone, with the iPad being the dominant device. I haven’t seen any yet that are fully feature-functional, but they’re rapidly moving to being able to display all kinds of images, with the link to the EMR; and I would predict that within less than two years, it will be possible not only for primary reading physicians to work remotely, with conferencing capability, but this will also extend to the referring physician, as well as to the individual patient, who will be allowed to see their own images, with the individual patient being allowed to see their own PHR.”
What about the platform integration companies exhibiting this year? “When companies like Cedara were around, they acted as integrators that developed high-end tools,” Grier says. “And that was, in my estimation, because vendors were a bit lazy and didn’t want to do it themselves. So you still have vendors like that who are around to glue all this together.” In fact, he says, “I don’t see the need for this ending in the near future. There are still proprietary elements in many of these solutions, and that always seems to come out at the RFP time. So when I do what I do, I have to identify that, and know that I have to have an integrator involved in the purchase of a new system.”
Meanwhile, Marion says he is noticing that “Handheld devices are almost universal” in terms of the image accessibility solutions vendors are offering. In other words, he agrees with Grier about image mobility being a very strong theme at RSNA this year. (Conveniently, that also confirms and validates the themes we uncovered in our November cover story.) “But,” he adds, “I thought there would be a lot more messaging this year around meaningful use, and I haven’t seen it.” In another area altogether, though, he adds that “Advanced visualization really seems to be catching on; a lot of new companies, like a Japanese company, Aze, are starting up. They claim a unique pulmonary analysis application. I think the PACS kind of stuff is mundane, everybody can do it, so the hot topic is these specific applications; that and the vendor-neutral archive.”
Marion believes that companies like Dell and EMC will best be able to take advantage of the interest in the vendor-neutral archive concept (whose nomenclature he believes is a bit askew). “I think organizations like Dell and EMC will be more credible in that area,” he says, “because of their ability to address the entire enterprise rather than just focusing on radiology images. And I think Dell is right on about that, that the imaging companies have to see the bigger picture and realize that they’ll be the tail of the dog. A few years ago,” he adds, “some companies saw themselves as controlling the process through images, but they’re realizing that they’re not going to control the entire archive via images.”
Meanwhile, more broadly, both Marion and Grier see signs of a thaw in what was a rather grim situation last year, as signs of new contracts for PACS and RIS systems—in most cases, legacy system replacements or upgrades—begin to gain momentum. This would be quite a hopeful development indeed, considering not only that things appeared rather grim in this area last year, and then the final rule on meaningful use came out this July, with no direct mention of image management. Only time will tell, but perhaps things are looking up at least a little bit in the imaging informatics business after all.