PACS users seek honesty, support, and hard facts

June 26, 2003

Dreaming up alternative meanings for the acronym PACS can be an amusing pursuit. Among the most witty that I have come across are: Promise Anything to Complete a Sale, Press Any key to Crash System, Products your Administrator Cannot Sell, and Picture

Dreaming up alternative meanings for the acronym PACS can be an amusing pursuit. Among the most witty that I have come across are: Promise Anything to Complete a Sale, Press Any key to Crash System, Products your Administrator Cannot Sell, and Picture Assets Completely Spent.

The first alternative on the list is perhaps the most revealing. It suggests a strong perception among end users that vendors of digital systems are not always as honest, transparent, and sincere as they might be.

Arguably, this comment can (rightly or wrongly) be applied to any medical equipment vendor, but it is heard more often in the world of PACS and informatics. This is partly because the market is ultracompetitive and the stakes are high, which encourages exaggerated claims. Also, several well-publicized and expensive mistakes have occurred, as well as a steady flow of company mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies. The result has been market instability, a lack of confidence among users, and a tendency to believe that not all vendors can be trusted.

In their defense, vendors may claim with some justification that many customers have had unrealistic expectations. Users have anticipated that merely purchasing a new system would solve all their problems, and they have failed to pay adequate attention to vital areas such as workflow, functionality, and maintenance.

Industry must do a better job of explaining exactly what its products can and cannot do. There is also a clear need for companies to take customers' views into account at an early stage.

"PACS vendors in particular are doing a remarkable job of failing to create distinct identities," wrote U.S. PACS consultant Cynthia Keen in a Diagnostic Imaging column late last year. "The focus of almost every vendor on offering a potpourri of identical products is creating a dilemma in decision-making."

Keen urges a greater focus on hard facts. What is the company's installed base? How has the product changed since last year? What are the specific needs of the customer, and how can these be met? What is your approach to training and maintenance?

As delegates and exhibitors gather in London for the annual Computer Assisted Radiology and Surgery meeting (25 to 28 June), this discussion provides ample food for thought. To advance patient care and realize the huge potential benefits of PACS, industry and users must work together more effectively.