Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sampling Charlotte at SIIM

The Taste of Charlotte festival held during the 2009 Society of Imaging Informatics (SIIM) meeting was an apt metaphor for this year's conference. The festival, held in downtown Charlotte, NC, allowed people to stroll by and sample a variety of foods. The SIIM meeting allowed attendees to taste a little bit of new technologies and configurations from diagnostic imaging informatics vendors. It was also a chance to network with colleagues, old and new, as well as make new contacts. 

On a more somber note, the thunderstorms outside on the streets of Charlotte were reflected in the mood of vendors concerned about attendance (down from last year), the overall economic situation, and the potential impact of new healthcare regulations. 

For me, the highlight of the conference was the PARCA meeting, where a good dialogue took place between PARCA and the American Board of Imaging Informatics (ABII). There was a healthy discussion by members that examined the pros and cons of the two prevalent certification authorities for PACS administrators. 

The advantage of PARCA’s on-line exams was a clear favorite, as was the organization’s global reach that is reflected in its membership. Both organizations are currently revaluating recertification options. I hope the respective board members will have the vision and willingness to continue their dialogue to facilitate a single certification organization for PACS administrators. 

I also found the updates on digital mammography and pathology to be illuminating. 

In regards to digital mammography, it was clear that most PACS vendors are still far from being able to provide a decent functionality for full-field digital mammography (FFDM) on their workstation. In turn, the modality’s mini-PACS and its dedicated mammo workstations interacting with the main PACS creates several interoperability issues. 

Regardless of informatics challenges, digital breast imaging has a promising future, with tomosynthesis, breast MRI, nuclear breast imaging, and thermal breast imaging already here. However, those informatics challenges are by no means minor issues. Sorting through image sets, developing hanging protocols, and other challenges mean that it will be a few years before the full complement of digital breast imaging will be part of the mainstream. 

Digital pathology was scary to the degree that the required data storage is humongous. The typical weekly data generation is equal to what a radiology department might create in a year. Similar to the challenge of a radiology workstation having to beat the performance of a film alternator, the pathology workstation has to simulate and beat the performance of a pathologist using a microscope, which will be hard. The early implementations will be very likely telepathology in areas that do not have access to laboratory expertise. 

Next year SIIM will be in Minneapolis, which is a beautiful and vibrant community. However, I hope the site-selection committee will select more visitor friendly locations such as San Antonio, Vancouver, Seattle, Boston, or even Dallas in the future. It is always nice to have options to network with colleagues at places other than a conference hotel lobby.