When in April 2006, what had been the Society for Computer Applications in Radiology (SCAR) changed its name to the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM), the Leesburg, Va.-based association was acknowledging a practical fact that had already been gathering momentum in the industry: informatics around diagnostic imaging was no longer simply about the radiology department or radiological medical practices. The recognition of that fact was abundantly clear, and often pointed out, at SIIM’s annual conference last week in Seattle, two years after the society’s renaming.
Yet what was also recognized by a number of speakers, as well as in conversations in the corridors and exhibit hall of the WashingtonStateConvention Center, is that the simple recognition of the shift in responsibility for, and interest in, imaging-related informatics, has not yet been fully reflected in industry practices, particularly in hospitals and health systems. At the moment, PACS administration remains for all practical purposes in most organizations tied to the radiology department, even as cardiology, pathology, gastroenterology, and obstetrics/gynecology are rapidly producing bodies of diagnostic images, and even as hospital and health system CIOs are trying to shift the paradigm in order to make images available, accessible, and usable to virtually all physicians, as appropriate, across the healthcare enterprise.
So even though SCAR became SIIM fully two years ago, the ingrained reporting structures and work processes of many patient care organizations still have clearly not caught up with the underlying paradigm shift that the association’s name change underscored. Interestingly, a vendor CEO asked me at the lovely SIIM reception atop the Space Needle on Friday evening what my perceptions of the long-term future of the association were.
What’s clear to me is that professional associations, just like nearly every stakeholder group in healthcare, will continue to struggle to be able to fully incorporate the emerging realities of the industry into their real-world working lives. Yes, visionary leaders in patient care organizations recognize that imaging informatics is no longer about creating and maintaining a departmental solution for radiologists and radiology professionals. There is indeed an intense imperative facing hospital and health system leaders in this regard, as the demand for access to, and facilitation of work with, diagnostic images, is only intensifying nationwide. But it will still take years for the reality on the ground to match what everyone realizes conceptually must take place.
With regard to imaging informatics, this puts CIOs in a distinctly challenging position. As change leaders in their organizations, they will need to turn this paradigm shift into reality. Yet CIOs are encumbered by the same hospital and health system politics that everyone else is, and by the same tendency towards stasis. Only by working assiduously and in a non-ego-based, collaborative fashion, with clinician, department, and service line leaders from across their organizations, will CIOs be able to bring about the change that everyone knows must happen and that most want. And whoever ends up reporting to whom, and however the org chart looks at the end of the day, it will take visionary, paradigm-shifting leaders from every part of the patient care organization to do what’s necessary to optimize patient care quality, clinician workflow, operational efficiency, patient safety, and organizational responsiveness to purchasers, payers, clinicians, and consumers.
Names and naming are important, even vital, in acknowledging and validating reality. But the really hard part comes after the renaming—sometimes, years after the name change. “Society for Collaborative, Multi-Disciplinary Imaging Informatics Across the Enterprise,” anyone?