Residents risk missing the informatics boat

September 1, 2007
Barton F. Branstetter IV, MD

PACS and other information technologies have become mainstream in the radiology community. Imaging informatics is definitely here to stay, and those radiologists who embrace it will be more productive and more efficient in their work.

PACS and other information technologies have become mainstream in the radiology community. Imaging informatics is definitely here to stay, and those radiologists who embrace it will be more productive and more efficient in their work.

Unfortunately, most radiology residents get little or no exposure to informatics theory and practice during their training. A few residents already find the application of computers to radiology as fascinating as the clinical aspects of radiology, but every radiologist will soon need to incorporate informatics knowledge into daily practice. To reflect the emerging importance of imaging informatics, the American Board of Radiology includes informatics questions on the physics portion of the written board examination.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that young radiologists with experience in informatics have more job options and may earn greater starting salaries than their non-computer-savvy counterparts. Private practices are eager to hire an applicant who states, "I can help with the PACS."

So where can radiology residents go to get exposure to this rapidly developing field? The Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine annual meeting is a great place to start, especially for residents who have had little or no exposure to informatics. Several opportunities at the meeting specifically target residents. In addition, much of the educational content of the meeting is geared toward physicians with relatively little background in imaging informatics.

Every year, a Resident Roundtable is held to discuss issues pertinent to residents, medical students, and radiology informatics fellows. The roundtable is always attended by many of the leading members of SIIM, including board members.

Many residents don't realize how welcoming SIIM is to trainees. With approximately 3000 attendees, the SIIM meeting is the perfect size for residents to balance the quality of the educational experience with the friendliness of the environment. Residents who have attended in previous years have experienced a comfortable meeting with approachable colleagues. Because the Resident Roundtable occurs early in the week, trainees make contacts that they can pursue throughout the conference.

Residents who attend the meeting will be able to return to their programs with a better sense of what might appear on examinations, and they can pass this information on to their fellow trainees. Trainees who find that they have a sincere interest in the subject matter can pursue informatics fellowships along with their clinical fellowships.

Some radiology residency programs offer research opportunities in informatics, and residents from many institutions present their work at the SIIM annual meeting. These opportunities are not universally available, however. To encourage resident participation, the society sponsors several expenses-paid trips to the annual meeting. Trainees at all levels (especially first- and second-year residents) compete for these scholarships by writing brief essays about technology applications within radiology. The SIIM Resident Scholarship Contest takes place in January and February-information will be available on the SIIM website after the RSNA meeting.

The winners of the 2006 scholarships were second-year residents who reported that the annual meeting provided them with educational experiences that would have been unavailable at their home institutions. Both of their winning essays were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Digital Imaging.

Even residents who do not participate in the scholarship program will find the SIIM annual meeting quite affordable: The meeting fee is far lower than comparable subspecialty societies, and it includes a one-year membership to SIIM. (The meeting is free to residents who are already members of the society.)

The SIIM website has a Resident Community, where trainees can find more information about the annual meeting, informatics research opportunities, and informatics fellowships. The Resident Community can be found at http://www.siimweb.org/index.cfm?id=238.

As technology advances in all areas of radiology, physicians become more dependent on the infrastructure that supports our workflow. A basic understanding of that technology will make us more efficient, more effective, and overall, better radiologists. Residents should take the time to learn about imaging informatics during their training years.

Dr. Branstetter is a head and neck radiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and chair of the SIIM Education Committee. Interested residents are encouraged to read his "Basics of imaging informatics," parts I and II, in the journal Radiology.