PACS anxiety lights up SCAR Expert Hotline

August 24, 2001

Planning a PACS implementation or expansion can inspire stress in even the most confident of healthcare professionals. Activities such as phasing in filmless operations, integrating hospital and radiology information systems, expanding PACS throughout

Planning a PACS implementation or expansion can inspire stress in even the most confident of healthcare professionals.

Activities such as phasing in filmless operations, integrating hospital and radiology information systems, expanding PACS throughout the enterprise, or installing a teleradiology network all generate their share of anxiety.

One therapy for PACS apprehension is to seek counsel from the SCAR Expert Hotline, which offers wise advice from a collection of about 15 PACS pioneers, developers, and early adopters.

The online service was established in 1996 and is available free to members of the Society for Computer Applications in Radiology. It began at the suggestion of Ronald B. Schilling, Ph.D., a member of the SCAR board of directors, as a better means of listening to the customer.

"I've run a number of businesses in diagnostic imaging, and the most important thing was always listen to the customer," Schilling said. "Don't imagine things. Find out reality and then respond to it. Don't hide from it."

The hotline fields a steady stream of five to 10 questions a month ranging from PACS implementation concerns to its clinical consequences. The questions come to facilitator Schilling, who edits them for clarity before distributing them to the experts.

"The amazing thing is that I normally get three to five responses - sometimes within three days," he said.

He then compiles the responses and filters out redundancies before e-mailing the answers back to the original questioner.

"Lately, the questions have gotten so sophisticated and the responses so practical and meaningful that we've started putting the questions and answers in the SCAR online newsletter (http:www.scarnet.org) so the entire membership can see them," Schilling said.

One question on image compression turned out to be so pertinent to the industry that the responses set off a cascade that resulted in the publication of the first-ever SCAR white paper on image compression. A special R&D symposium on irreversible compression of medical images addressed the question at the Salt Lake City SCAR meeting in May.

"That question on compression triggered so much anxiety among the experts that pretty soon we could have written a book," Schilling said.

SCAR attempts to preserve the anonymity of its experts, a combination of medical doctors, academics, and others extensively involved with the organization.

"We don't tell the community who the experts are, although they could probably figure it out if they wanted to," Schilling said. "We don't want people calling them directly at their home offices."