Vendors put best function forward at PACS face-off

March 1, 2006

Hot on the heels of a successful 3D workstation face-off at last year's meeting, the Society for Computed Body Tomography and Magnetic Resonance this year has invited PACS vendors to submit their systems for what will be the first ever PACS showdown.

Hot on the heels of a successful 3D workstation face-off at last year's meeting, the Society for Computed Body Tomography and Magnetic Resonance this year has invited PACS vendors to submit their systems for what will be the first ever PACS showdown.

Daily use of PACS can be frustrating, particularly as more facilities move toward PACS and data sets become overwhelming, said Dr. Lincoln Berland, president of the SCBT/MR.

"Radiologists want to know how functional these systems are. How long does it take to start up and open applications? How easy is it to find a case on the work list and display it, or to make simple measurements and annotations and save them? These are the questions that users want answered," Berland said.

The fact that the showdown is being sponsored by a subspecialty society whose main mission does not revolve around informatics is good news, according to Dr. Paul Chang, director of radiology informatics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. It means people understand that digital information management is a critical aspect of running the department. But Chang also has reservations.

"PACS is more than a product, more than a workstation, more than image management. To reduce a PACS to how many buttons you push is a gross simplification," he said.

Chang's point may be valid but possibly of no concern to event participants. They will be PACS users who are interested in cross-sectional modalities and the functions that will help them streamline their workflow.

In that context, the showdown has a lot to offer, according to George Kovacs, senior marketing manager for McKesson Provider Technologies, one of the vendors that is showcasing its PACS.

"Events such as 'connectathons' are mostly concerned with the connectivity side and fall short of demonstrating the systems from a clinical user's point of view," Kovacs said. "I expect to highlight the real clinical value of our product."

Most PACS have similar functionality, but vendors differentiate their products in various ways. One of McKesson's features bound to be tested is called adaptive image loading. This enables radiologists viewing large CT or MR studies to navigate quickly to the series or image of interest without waiting for the entire study to load.

Dr. Khan M. Siddiqui, chief of imaging informatics at the VA Maryland Health Care System and a moderator of the face-off (along with colleague Dr. Eliot Siegel), said the goal of the event is not to look at the buttons but to see how the system enhances workflow. What steps does it require to retrieve the work list? How easy does it make comparisons of current and prior studies? How does it create a hanging protocol?

"All PACS handle these tasks differently. Some systems will do some tasks better than others," Siddiqui said. "Ultimately, you want to see which system speaks directly to your particular workflow."

But the value of such a PACS showdown may not linger long, according to Chang. PACS is becoming a commodity, and with declining reimbursement, there is a renewed emphasis on efficiency. While PACS is important, radiologists should prepare for the next disruptive approach: workflow optimization.

"A comparison of functions is not analogous to [an evaluation of] mature workflow models," Chang said. "Weak workflow algorithms tend to come with a lot of buttons, which are required only when a system doesn't know what to do next."

Berland disagrees. Everyone who has PACS uses these functions hundreds of times a day, he said, and good functions can save hours a day. For now, however, the PACS contest is satisfying a need. At last year's 3D workstation face-off, 82% of the audience indicated electronically that they wanted a PACS showdown.

The program takes place Wednesday afternoon, April 5, in Phoenix during the SCBT/MR regular meeting. It will last approximately two hours. Other vendors participating are Agfa, Philips (formerly Stentor), Fuji, Amicas, and GE Healthcare.

For more online information, refer to Diagnostic Imaging's PACSweb section.