A year ago, with the U.S.—and global—economy mired in a deep recession, and the imaging and imaging informatics industries shadowed with concern over a variety of unresolved policy and reimbursement questions, the atmosphere at the RSNA Conference felt rather shaky. I remember comparing it to the atmosphere of Vienna prior to the previous turn of the century of 120 years ago, as described in the book “A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888-1889,” by Frederic Morton.
Among other things, the recession had caused hospitals to pull back on purchasing new PACS and RIS systems; the fact that imaging informatics was not explicitly addressed in the interim final rule on meaningful use under the HITECH Act had created an immediate falloff in interest in PACS and RIS among CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders; the imaging modality market, for all its innovations, had become largely saturated at the same time the PACS/RIS market had become saturated and undynamic; and above all hung questions over the federal healthcare reform legislative process and the ongoing SGR physician-payment crisis. In such an environment, it was hard to see many “ups.”
Fast-forward a year, and RSNA felt slightly different—if not wildly different—this year. From everything we’re hearing, contracts are up slightly for the purchase of PACS and RIS systems; healthcare reform legislation, though still politically embattled, had at least passed Congress and given everyone some sense of overall federal healthcare policy priorities and parameters; and though the SGR drama continues, at least we now have some sense of what the political environment on Capitol Hill will be for the time being, following the mid-term elections in November.
What’s more, somehow everything just seems like a “new normal,” with the healthcare industry, despite all its challenges, evolving forward, as always. In that context, honestly, a 2-percent increase in attendance over last year (56,574, as of Tuesday, versus 55,403 as of the Tuesday of last year’s conference) doesn’t really seem like a bad turnout at all.
Meanwhile, interesting discussions seemed to be popping up all over the place, particularly around such topics as image mobility/universal image availability, 3D visualization and the resulting need for a storage infrastructure overhaul, and the place of imaging informatics in health information exchange. And even though imaging IT was not specifically addressed in the final rule for stage 1 of meaningful use, there is always the possibility that, whether explicitly addressed in stages 2 and 3 or not, the integrality of images to overall clinical computing will inject more energy into imaging informatics going forward. My conversations with CIOs, radiologist leaders, and consultants convince me that there will be enough incentive for vendors to turn their focus to optimizing the efficiency and physician-centeredness of imaging and informatics processes. In that regard, it will be interesting to hear what the discussions are like at RSNA 2011.